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Diet, exercise, stimulating environment helps old dogs learn

was hidden under a black or white block (black/white discrimination). Later, the treat was hidden under the opposite block so the dogs had to relearn the task (reversal learning).

Overall, older dogs in the combined intervention group did the best on these learning tasks, outperforming dogs in the control group (standard diet, standard care) as well as those that received either the antioxidant diet or environmental enrichment. However, older beagles that received at least one of these interventions also did better than the control group. For instance, all 12 of the older beagles in the combined intervention group were able to solve the reversal learning problem. In comparison, 8 of the 12 dogs that ate the antioxidant diet without environmental enrichment and 8 of the 10 that received environmental enrichment without the antioxidant diet solved the problem. Only two of the eight older dogs in the control group were able to do this task. Dietary intervention in the younger canines had no effect.

"The combination of an antioxidant diet and lots of cognitive stimulation--which was almost the equivalent of going to school every day--really did improve brain function in these animals," says Dr. Head. "We're excited about these findings because the interventions themselves are relatively simple and might be easily translated into clinical practice for people."


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Contact: Doug Dollemore
dollemod@nia.nih.gov
301-496-1752
NIH/National Institute on Aging
18-Jan-2005


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