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Living a healthier lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing dementia

Living a healthier lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing dementia

By eating better and getting more exercise people with a higher genetic risk of dementia can lower their risk of developing the condition linked to diabetes.

Published: Aug 01, 2019
Category: Research

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can help people with a higher genetic risk of developing dementia reduce the chances of the condition developing, according to a new report.

Regular exercise, not smoking, drinking less alcohol, and eating a healthy diet have been found to reduce the risk of getting dementia even if a person has a higher genetic risk of developing the condition.

The results of a study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that a “favourable lifestyle was associated with a lower dementia risk among participants with high genetic risk”.

The study was based on results from almost 200,000 adults aged 60 and over in the UK over an eight year period.

Volunteers completed questionnaires about their lifestyles, and researchers looked at their DNA to see who carried genetic variations that have been associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease – the most common type of dementia.

Alzheimer's disease has been referred to as “type 3 diabetes” – which researchers believe is caused by brain cells becoming insulin resistant.

The results of the study found that around two-thirds of participants (68%) had a “healthy lifestyle”, while 8% had an “unhealthy lifestyle”, with the remaining (24%) somewhere in between.

In follow-up tests 1,769 participants (0.9%) developed dementia.

Researchers found that among participants with a high genetic risk, those with a healthy lifestyle were less likely to develop dementia.

Around 1.1% of those with a high genetic risk but a healthy lifestyle developed dementia, compared to around 1.8% of those with high genetic risk and an unhealthy lifestyle.

An NHS Behind the Headlines report on the study said: “The study looked at genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, but not at the outcome of developing any type of dementia.

“This may be because Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, and probably the best studied. Analysing results by type of dementia would have been useful, but given that only relatively few people developed dementia, may not have been feasible.

“As with all studies of this type, we cannot be sure that healthy lifestyle is definitely the only factor contributing to the differences in risk. Other unmeasured environmental factors may also play a role.

“The positive message of this study is that even those with some genetic predisposition to developing dementia can still do something about it. It may also be of some comfort to bear in mind that even among those with high genetic risk in this study, only 1.2% developed dementia during follow-up. While this may in part be due to the fact that participants were still not very old at the end of the study (average age 72 years), it still shows that genetic risk factors are not a guarantee of a diagnosis.

“Overall, the results of this study do offer reassurance that having a healthy lifestyle is your best chance of reducing your dementia risk.”

This study was conducted by researchers from the UK (University of Exeter Medical School, University of Oxford, University College London, The Alan Turing Institute), the US (University of Michigan, Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research in Michigan), Australia (University of South Australia) and Germany (University of Hamburg, Hamburg Center for Health Economics).

Read the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association
Category: Research

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