Healthy behaviors may reduce the risk of developing dementia even in people with a family history of the condition, according to a new study presented virtually at the annual conference of the American Heart Association, and described in a press release from the organization.
A number of factors are known to contribute to the risk of developing dementia, including family history, blood pressure, depression, abnormal blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels, and type 2 diabetes. For the latest study, researchers were interested in finding out how behaviors interact with uncontrollable risk factors — like family health history — to determine a person’s dementia risk. The participants were 302,239 adults ages 50 to 73 who didn’t have dementia at the beginning of the study. They completed questionnaires about their family health history and lifestyle habits, and were followed for an average of about eight years.
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Based on their responses to lifestyle questions, participants received a score in which they got one point for each of six different healthy behaviors — following a healthy diet (high in fruits and vegetables, and low in processed meats and refined grains), getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly, sleeping six to nine hours each night, drinking alcohol in moderation, not smoking, and not being obese.
Healthy behaviors linked to lower dementia risk
During the follow-up period, 1,698 participants (0.6%) developed dementia. Not surprisingly, those with a family history of dementia were more likely to develop the condition — about 70% more likely. But this higher risk wasn’t seen equally in all people with a family history of dementia. Overall, following all six healthy lifestyle behaviors was linked to an almost 50% lower risk for dementia, compared with following two or fewer of the behaviors. Following at least three of the healthy behaviors was linked to a 25% to 35% lower risk of developing dementia.
The study also found that people with a family history of dementia were more likely to follow healthy lifestyle behaviors. Among participants who followed two or fewer healthy behaviors, 11% reported a family history of dementia, while among those who followed all six healthy behaviors, 15% reported a family history of dementia. If people with a family history of dementia were adopting more healthy behaviors in an attempt to reduce their dementia risk, the results of this study would appear to confirm that strategy as an effective one.
“This study provides important evidence that a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on brain health,” said American Heart Association President Mitchell S.V. Elkind, MD, in the press release. “It should be reassuring and inspiring to people to know that following just a few healthy behaviors can delay cognitive decline.”
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”
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