Seven habits linked to lower risk of dementia in those with genetic risk – study

Some of the factors that may play a role in reducing the risk are not smoking and maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

Man holding a walking stick
Man holding a walking stick

Being active, eating better and losing weight are among seven habits linked to lowering the chance of people at genetic risk of dementia developing the condition, research suggests.

The other factors that may play a role in reducing the risk are not smoking, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and reducing blood sugar, according to a new study.

Researchers say the findings are good news for those who are at the highest genetic risk of dementia.

Adrienne Tin, of the University of Mississippi Medical Centre in America, said: “These healthy habits in the Life’s Simple 7 have been linked to a lower risk of dementia overall, but it is uncertain whether the same applies to people with a high genetic risk.

“The good news is that even for people who are at the highest genetic risk, living by this same healthier lifestyle are likely to have a lower risk of dementia.”

The seven cardiovascular and brain health factors are known as the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7.

The study looked at 8,823 people with European ancestry and 2,738 people with African ancestry who were followed for 30 years.

Researchers calculated the genetic risk scores at the start of the study.

The research found that the group with the highest genetic risk included those that had at least one copy of a gene variant – change in DNA – associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Of those with a European background, 27.9% had the gene, while of those who had African ancestry, 40.4% had it.

By the end of the study, 1,603 people with European ancestry developed dementia and 631 people with African ancestry developed dementia.

For people with a European background, researchers found that people with the highest scores in the lifestyle factors had a lower risk of dementia, including among the group with the highest genetic risk of dementia.

For each one-point increase in the lifestyle factor score, there was a 9% lower risk of developing dementia, the study found.

The study found that in those with European ancestry, compared with the lowest score, the intermediate and high score categories were associated with 30% and 43% lower risk for dementia, respectively.

Among those with African ancestry, the intermediate and high categories were associated with 6% and 17% lower risk for dementia, respectively.

Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Dementia risk depends on many factors.

“Some, like our age and genetic make-up, we cannot change, while others, like diet and exercise, we can.

“This study supports the idea that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain – and that this holds true even for people with a higher genetic risk of dementia, at least for participants of European ancestry.

“Although the researchers monitored participants for all forms of dementia, when grouping people according to genetic risk they focused only on genes that increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease, just one cause of dementia.

“Also, health scores were taken at the start of the study, but what we don’t know is whether the participants’ healthy habits lasted for the duration of the study.”

She added that future research will need to include risk genres for all forms of dementia, and ideally continually monitor health habits.

The research is published in the Neurology journal.

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