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Can seven healthy habits now reduce risk of dementia later?
New research that followed female participants for two decades has found that seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors may play a role in lowering the risk of dementia. The preliminary study released today, February 27, 2023, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 75th Annual Meeting being held in person in Boston and live online from April 22-27, 2023.
The seven cardiovascular and brain health factors, known as the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7, are: being active, eating better, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol and having low blood sugar.
"Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it's important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age," said Pamela Rist, ScD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life."
The study involved 13,720 female participants with an average age of 54 at the start of the study.
After 20 years of follow-up, researchers looked at Medicare data to identify those who had been diagnosed with dementia.
Of the participants, 1,771, or 13%, developed dementia.
For each of the seven health factors, participants were given a score of zero for poor or intermediate health and one point for ideal health, for a total possible score of 7. The average score was 4.3 at the start of the study and 4.2 10 years later.
After adjusting for factors like age and education, researchers found that for every increase of one point in the score, a participant's risk of dementia decreased by 6%.
"It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for a half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia," Rist added.
A limitation of the study was that researchers were unable to look at how changes in factors such as quitting smoking influenced the risk of dementia later in life.