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Dementia is something many of us worry about as we grow older. And with good reason. Aging is one of the top risk factors for developing this debilitating cognitive disorder.
About 2 in every 100 people between the ages of 65 and 69 have dementia. And after that, an individual’s risk of dementia roughly doubles every five years. This means that around 33 in 100 people over 90 have dementia.
Unfortunately, like genetics, aging isn’t a risk factor we can control. But one recent Canadian study indicates that when it comes to dementia, age may be nothing more than a number — that is, if you control for certain factors…
Lifestyle may matter more than age for dementia
Researchers at Baycrest in Canada examined data from 22,117 people ages 18 to 89, specifically looking at how participants performed on memory and attention tests and how this was affected by eight modifiable risk factors for dementia. These included:
- Having less than a high school diploma
- Hearing loss
- Traumatic brain injury
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Smoking within the past four years
- And depression
Results showed that participants with none of those dementia risk factors have brain health similar to that of people 10 to 20 years younger than them. By contrast, a single dementia risk factor could reduce cognition by the equivalent of up to three years of aging!
And with multiple risk factors, the amount of decline was cumulative. For instance, having three risk factors could lead to a decrease in cognitive performance that’s equivalent to as much as nine years of aging.
Unfortunately, the effects of the risk factors rose with age, as did the number of risk factors participants had.
“Our results suggest lifestyle factors may be more important than age in determining someone’s level of cognitive functioning,” says Dr. Annalise LaPlume, a postdoctoral fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and the study’s lead author. “This is great news since there’s a lot you can do to modify these factors, such as managing diabetes, addressing hearing loss, and getting the support you need to quit smoking.”
Take these lifestyle steps to reduce risk
We’ve known for a while that modifying lifestyle risks can significantly reduce dementia risk. In one previous study, individuals following six healthy lifestyle behaviors slashed their dementia risk nearly in half compared with those who followed two or fewer of the six habits.
Two of these six healthy habits, moderating alcohol consumption and quitting smoking, overlap with the risk factors observed in the more recent Baycrest study. The other four include:
- Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise every week
- Sleeping for 6 to 9 hours each day
- Avoiding obesity by maintaining a BMI of less than 30 kg/m
- Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in processed meats and refined grains.
Given the results of the Baycrest study, it’s also essential to manage your blood pressure and blood sugar to avoid developing hypertension and diabetes. Getting exercise and following a healthy diet can go a long way toward preventing those health issues.
In addition, make sure you’re treated for any hearing loss and/or depression you may be experiencing. If your hearing is normal, do whatever you can to preserve it. Turn down the volume on your earphones and wear earplugs or other protective devices whenever you’re in a loud environment.
As for traumatic brain injury, the best way to manage that risk is to protect your head. Studies show the risk of dementia increases exponentially with every head injury an individual experiences. If you engage in activities where there’s a risk of brain injury, such as cycling or sports, make sure you wear a helmet.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
The adverse effect of modifiable dementia risk factors on cognition amplifies across the adult lifespan — Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring
Risk factors for dementia — Alzheimer’s Society