A combination of lifestyle factors may dramatically reduce the risk of developing dementia in people with diabetes, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.
Diabetes is linked to a higher risk for dementia, or advanced cognitive impairment — but there are steps you can take to reduce this risk, starting with optimizing your blood glucose control. Studies have shown that a number of lifestyle factors are linked to a lower risk for dementia, including getting enough physical activity and following a healthy diet. Dietary factors that may reduce your dementia risk include consuming antioxidant-rich foods, getting enough fiber, following a plant-based diet, and even drinking coffee or tea.
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For the latest study, researchers were interested in looking at how a combination of lifestyle factors could affect the risk for dementia. To do this, they created a lifestyle scoring system on a scale of 0 to 7, with one point awarded for each of seven healthy lifestyle factors — not currently smoking, consuming alcohol in moderation, getting regular physical activity, following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, a low level of sedentary behavior, and frequent social contact. The study participants were 167,946 people ages 60 and older, without dementia at the beginning of the study, who took part in a large general health assessment in Britain called the UK Biobank. Electronic health records were used to track which participants developed dementia during a follow-up period lasting a median of 12.3 years.
Study highlights importance of lifestyle in dementia risk
During the follow-up period, 4,351 participants (2.6%) developed dementia in some form. Participants with diabetes — but not those with prediabetes — were at higher risk for dementia than participants without diabetes with a similar lifestyle score. But this comparison also showed how important lifestyle is when it comes to dementia risk in people with diabetes. Compared with participants without diabetes who had the highest lifestyle score of 7, those with diabetes who had a lifestyle score of 0-2 were 4.01 times as likely to develop dementia. But participants with diabetes who had a lifestyle score of 7 were only 1.74 times as likely to develop dementia — a 54% lower risk than those with a lifestyle score of 0-2.
The researchers also calculated the absolute risk of developing dementia over 10 years in participants with diabetes. They found that for those with a lifestyle score of 0-2, this risk level was 5.22%, but for those with a lifestyle score of 7, it was 1.72% — lower than the overall dementia risk among all study participants, regardless of diabetes status. The relationship between a higher lifestyle score and a lower dementia risk was consistent among participants with diabetes regardless of their blood glucose control and what medications they took.
“Adherence to a broad range of healthy lifestyle factors was associated with a significantly lower risk of dementia among participants with diabetes,” the researchers concluded. “Behavioral lifestyle modification through multifactorial approaches should be a priority for prevention and delayed onset of dementia” for people with diabetes and their health care providers, they emphasized.
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.”