Nearly everyone can lower their risk of dementia, even if it runs in the family, by living a healthy lifestyle, research suggests. The study of nearly 200,000 people showed the risk fell by up to a third. The team at the University of Exeter said the results were exciting, empowering and showed people were not doomed to get dementia. The findings were revealed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The researchers gave people a healthy lifestyle score based on a combination of exercise, diet, alcohol and smoking. An example of someone who scored well as follows: Doesn’t currently smoke, Cycles at normal pace for two-and-a-half hours a week, Eats a balanced diet that includes more than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eats fish twice a week and rarely eats processed meat, Drinks up to one pint of beer a day. Sue Taylor, 62, from Exeter, has seen the impact of dementia on a family both her mother and grandmother had the disease. She takes exercise classes in the park three times a week even in winter and has a 45-minute walk before work. “It takes a lot of effort, you have to think about it and make it fit in,” she told me. But she says it’s worth it, especially for her grandchildren. “I just want to keep my brain as sharp as possible for as long as possible. I don’t want them to miss out on having grandparents both physically and mentally,” she said.
The study followed 196,383 people from the age of 64 for about eight years. It analysed people’s DNA to assess their genetic risk of developing the disease. The study showed there were 18 cases of dementia per 1,000 people if they were born with high risk genes and then led an unhealthy lifestyle. But that went down to 11 per 1,000 people during the study if those high-risk people had a healthy lifestyle. The figures might seem small, but that is because your mid-60s are relatively young in terms of dementia. The researchers say cutting dementia rates by a third would have a profound impact in older age groups where the disease is more common. “It could equate to hundreds of thousands of people,” Dr David Llewellyn said. Also, this type of research cannot definitively prove that lifestyle causes different risks of dementia. It simply spots patterns in the data. But the results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, fit with previous research and World Health Organization advice. Sadly, you can live the life of a saint and still get the disease. Lifestyle just changes the odds. However, there are still no drugs to change the course of this disease. Reducing your chances is all anyone can do.