Adult children of parents who have or had dementia or Alzheimer's disease are bound to worry about whether they have a genetic tendency to either of these brain diseases. And though they may know that eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise is good for your heart, your waistline and your brain, they will be relieved to learn that a healthy lifestyle substantially lowered the risk of developing these incurable diseases even among those with a higher genetic risk for them, according to a new study.
Nearly six million adults in the U.S. have some form of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the cases. One out of three seniors in the United States dies with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia.
Finding ways to reduce these numbers is a public health imperative because not only do Alzheimers' and dementia cost the healthcare system billions of dollars, but the toll on caregivers can be physically, financially and emotionally devastating.
A healthy lifestyle was associated with about a 30 percent lower risk of dementia, regardless of one’s genetics.
Four lifestyle factors that have previously been associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were examined among the participants — smoking status, exercise, diet and alcohol intake. Each person was given a lifestyle score.
The participants were enrolled in the study between 2006 and 2010 and were followed until 2016-2017. Nearly 1,800 of the participants developed some type of dementia.
People who had the highest genetic risk and less healthy lifestyle were more likely to develop dementia, and people with low genetic risk and a healthier lifestyle were less likely to develop dementia. But a healthy lifestyle was associated with about a 30 percent lower risk of dementia, regardless of one’s genetics.
The study does have some limitations. It looked at a small number of lifestyle factors among only people of European ancestry. The information was self-reported and collected at one point in time. Nevertheless, it sends the message to those whose family members have had dementia that it is not fated for them. They can take actions to reduce their risk significantly.
Make the appropriate changes, and you can live a life that reduces your risk of being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The study is published in JAMA.