Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. Dementia can affect the way people speak, think, feel and behave. People with dementia can become apathetic or uninterested in their usual activities, or may have problems controlling their emotions – this can make them feel isolated. Although age and genes can influence a person’s chance of developing dementia, making certain lifestyle decisions may reduce a person’s risk.
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease are also risk factors for dementia
Alzheimers Research UK
According to Alzheimers Research UK: “Risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke) are also risk factors for dementia, so what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”
Leading a healthy lifestyle and taking regular exercise will help lower person’s risk of cardiovascular diseases, and it’s likely it could lower a person’s risk of dementia too, particularly vascular dementia, explained the charity.
The health body recommended the following lifestyle tips:
- Don’t smoke
- Keep active and exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy balanced diet
- Only drink alcohol within Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines
- Keep cholesterol and blood pressure at a healthy level.
The NHS recommended aiming for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week to stave off serious health risks.
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in your forties and fifties seems to be particularly important for helping to lower your risk of dementia,” it added.
Recent evidence props up this claim. Research published in JAMA found that the risk of dementia was 32 per cent lower in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those who had an unhealthy lifestyle.
Participants with high genetic risk and an unfavourable lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop dementia compared to those with a low genetic risk and favourable lifestyle.
The joint lead author of the study said: “This is the first study to analyse the extent to which you may offset your genetic risk of dementia by living a healthy lifestyle. Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia. Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk.”
The study analysed data from 196,383 adults of European ancestry aged 60 and older from UK Biobank. The researchers identified 1,769 cases of dementia over a follow-up period of eight years. The team grouped the participants into those with high, intermediate and low genetic risk for dementia.
To assess genetic risk, the researchers looked at previously published data and identified all known genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Each genetic risk factor was weighted according to the strength of its association with Alzheimer’s disease.
To assess lifestyle, researchers grouped participants into favourable, intermediate and unfavourable categories based on their self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption. The researchers considered no current smoking, regular physical activity, healthy diet and moderate alcohol consumption as healthy behaviours. The team found that living a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced dementia risk across all genetic risk groups.
Joint lead author Dr David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School and the Alan Turing Institute, said: “This research delivers a really important message that undermines a fatalistic view of dementia. Some people believe it’s inevitable they’ll develop dementia because of their genetics. However it appears that you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle.”
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