Following healthy lifestyle behaviors can lower dementia risk in people who are at a higher risk due to family history. This is the information from a study that will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2021.
Family history is a strong risk factor for dementia. Having a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling with the disease has been found to increase the risk of dementia by nearly 75% compared to someone who does not have a first-degree relative. Other common risk factors for dementia include age, race, sex, education, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression, and type 2 diabetes.
“When dementia runs in a family both genetics and non-genetic factors, such as dietary patterns, physical activity , and smoking status, affect an individual’s overall risk,” said study author Angelique Brellenthin, Ph.D. “This means there may be opportunities for reducing risk by addressing those non-genetic factors.”
For the study, researchers analyzed health information from 302,239 men and women aged 50-73 years. All participants were from the UK Biobank Study and had completed a baseline physical examination between 2006-2010. All adults were free of dementia at the beginning of the study and were required to fill out questionnaires about family history and lifestyle.
Healthy Lifestyle Behavior
Six healthy lifestyle factors were monitored in these patients. These included consuming a nutritious diet, sleeping 6 to 9 hours a day, moderate alcohol intake, and not smoking. Physical activity of 150 or more minutes of moderate – to vigorous was also tracked along with participant’s BMI.
After following participants for 8 years, it was found that adults with a family history of dementia had a 70% increased risk of the disease compared to those without the history. Participants who were following all six healthy lifestyle behaviors were able to cut their risk of developing dementia by nearly half. This is compared to participants following two or fewer healthy behaviors.
Participants who had followed at least three healthy lifestyle behaviors had a 25% to 35% reduced risk of dementia compared to those who followed two or less.
Researchers hope these results will bring attention to the importance of healthy lifestyle behaviors. They suggest starting with small changes such as engaging in at least three or more healthy lifestyle behaviors and adding more over time. This can significantly lower the risk of dementia, especially in those with a family history of the disease.