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Could these 9 life changes help prevent dementia?

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

21st July 2017 – Making 9 lifestyle changes might help reduce your chances of developing dementia, according to a study in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Researchers found that of the 35% of dementia cases that could be avoided, the 3 most common changes to avoid risk were getting a better education in early life, avoiding hearing loss during middle age and stopping smoking in later life.

The researchers, led by University College London (UCL), say that acting now could vastly improve people's future lives.

9 factors

The 9 changes are:

  1. Improve education: 7.5% of dementia cases are associated with having less education in early life – specifically secondary education – up to age 15
  2. Avoid hearing loss: A loss of hearing in mid-life, between the ages of 45 and 65, is assessed as causing 9.1% of dementia cases in mid-life, between the ages of 45 and 65
  3. Get more exercise: Boosting physical inactivity could reduce dementia rates by 2.6% for those aged 65 and over in later life
  4. Reduce high blood pressure: Keeping blood pressure under control could reduce dementia rates by 2%
  5. Avoid getting type 2 diabetes: A reduction of 1.2% could be achieved by avoiding type 2 diabetes in later life
  6. Manage your weight: Avoiding obesity could have a similar 0.8% effect
  7. Stop smoking: Kicking the tobacco habit had a significant 5.5% reduction in risk
  8. Maintain good mental health: Avoiding depression in later years reduced the risk of dementia by 4%
  9. Ensure a good social life: Maintaining links with friends and family and avoiding social isolation can reduce the risk by 2.3%

Dr Gill Livingston from UCL, who led the study, tells Medscape News: "We only considered risk factors for which there was enough data to draw meaningful conclusions, so we are probably underestimating the importance of lifestyle, but we can certainly say it makes a large contribution."

The researchers suggest that people should think about taking up mentally stimulating activities, such as a hobby, going to the cinema, eating out and volunteering.

'A cause for celebration'

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at Alzheimer's Society, comments: "The revelation that over a third of dementia cases worldwide are, in theory, entirely preventable is cause for celebration. But to achieve even close to this kind of reduction in cases we need to consider two important challenges – firstly how risk factors like education, obesity and depression apply not just at a population level, but to individual people who all have their own unique genetic risk profiles, and secondly how we can motivate people in mid to late life to change their behaviour and adopt healthier lifestyle choices.

"Not all of the 9 risk factors identified are easily modifiable – factors like poor education and social isolation are incredibly challenging to address. But there are easier wins, particularly cardiovascular factors like lowering blood pressure and smoking cessation."

Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, says in a statement: "The report recommends more vigorous treatment of high blood pressure, and we would welcome moves to ensure all those who could benefit from blood pressure medication do so.

"We know that many people who are prescribed these medicines have difficulty sticking with their treatments, and it could be important to examine how these challenges might be addressed."

Reviewed on July 21, 2017

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