AGING
June 30, 2020

Lifestyle Factors Reduce Alzheimer's Risk

A combination of these lifestyle traits appears to substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

There are five things you can do to significantly reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Even sticking with just four of the five could go a long way toward reducing your chances of being diagnosed with the disease.

Over five million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, and the numbers are increasing rapidly. It is the leading cause of disability and poor health among people aged 65 and older. By 2050, it is estimated that 14 million people will be affected. Since many physicians believe the medical profession will not be ready to handle this number of people with Alzheimer’s, efforts at prevention are all the more important.

The risk of developing Alzheimer's was 60 percent lower in people engaging in four to five of the behaviors compared to seniors who engaged in none or only one of them.

In a National Institute on Aging-funded study, researchers from the University of California Davis reviewed information collected in two studies, the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) and the Memory and Aging Project (MAP). Over 2,700 participants were chosen because of the availability of information on their diet, genetics, lifestyle factors and clinical assessments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Each person in the study was given a score based on their compliance with five lifestyle habits having to do with health — exercise, smoking status, alcohol consumption, diet and engaging in activities that are mentally demanding late in life.

These five habits have significant health benefits. Exercising at least 150 minutes a week, or about 20 minutes a day, is an important for the heart and overall health. People who don’t smoke or those who have quit, even over the age of 60, have improved health and a lower risk of cancer and heart disease. Light to moderate use of alcohol may improve cognitive health, and eating a healthy plant-based diet such as the MIND diet has been linked to preventing dementia. Finally, staying engaged intellectually keeps the mind active and may benefit the brain.

Each person's scores were then compared with the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the CHAP and MAP studies. Researcher Klodian Dhana of Rush University Medical Center stressed that it is the combination of healthy lifestyle factors that is key to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The risk of developing Alzheimer's was 37 percent lower in people who engaged in two or three healthy behaviors and 60 percent lower in people with four to five of the behaviors when compared to those who engaged in none or only one of them.

It is the combination of healthy lifestyle factors that's key to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

“This observational study provides more evidence on how a combination of modifiable behaviors may [reduce] Alzheimer's disease risk,” said Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, in a statement. “The findings strengthen the association between healthy behaviors and lower risk, and add to the basis for controlled clinical trials to directly test the ability of interventions to slow or prevent development of Alzheimer's disease.”

The idea that seniors have it in their power to lower their risk of Alzheimer's is seconded by the authors, “From these findings and the fact that the lifestyle factors we studied are modifiable and in direct control of the individual, it is imperative to promote them concurrently among older adults as a strategy to delay or prevent Alzheimer dementia.”

It's a numbers game: There are likely many factors that play into the risk for developing Alzheimer’s, and a combination of healthy lifestyle habits seems to lead to a decreased risk of developing the disease. The more healthy behaviors you engage in, the lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is published in Neurology.

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