Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology followed the lives of 13,720 participants over a 20-year period. In the beginning of the study, the participants were around 54 years of age. Dr Pamela Rist said: “Dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis.”
The doctor of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, elaborated.
“It’s important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age,” she said.
Seven health factors, known as the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple Seven”, were identified.
These healthy behaviours were:
- Regular exercise
- Watching your weight
- Abstaining from smoking
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Having low blood sugar
- Controlling cholesterol levels.
Participants were given a score of zero for poor or intermediate health.
They were then given a point for ideal health for each of the seven health factors, amounting to a possible total score of seven.
After 20 years, the researchers identified 13 percent (1,771) of the cohort developed dementia.
Adjusting data for age and education, the research team found that for every one point in a participant’s total score, their risk of dementia decreased by six percent.
Dr Rist said: “The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”
There are limitations to the research, considering all participants were American and female.
Further limitations included being unable to identify how being an ex-smoker influenced the risk of dementia in later life.
Regardless, Dr Rist added: “It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for half an hour a day, or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia.”
The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting in Boston between April 22 to 27.
The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 38,000 members in its ranks.
Dementia risk factors
The Mayo Clinic says there are certain behaviours that increase the risk of dementia.
Such behaviours include excessive alcohol use, which has been associated with brain changes, and smoking.
Air pollution has also been linked to dementia, especially from traffic exhaust and burning wood.
Another dementia risk factor is head trauma; the more head injuries, the higher the risk.
Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, could also be a risk factor for dementia.
Anybody experiencing symptoms of dementia is advised to book a doctor’s appointment.
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