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Best way to prevent dementia – living a healthy life

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Regular exercise, a balanced diet, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol are the best ways to prevent dementia – even if the illness runs in the family.

That is the key finding from research by Exeter University, which shows that a healthy lifestyle may help offset a person’s genetic risk of dementia.

The study found that the risk of dementia was 32 per cent lower in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those who had an unhealthy lifestyle.

Participants with a higher genetic risk and an unfavourable lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop dementia compared to those with a low genetic risk and favourable lifestyle.

“This is the first study to analyse the extent to which you may offset your genetic risk of dementia by living a healthy lifestyle," said joint lead author Dr Elżbieta Kuźma, at the University of Exeter Medical School.

"Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia. Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk.”

Joint lead author Dr David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School and the Alan Turing Institute, added: “This research delivers a really important message that undermines a fatalistic view of dementia.

"Some people believe it’s inevitable they’ll develop dementia because of their genetics. However it appears that you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle.”

The study analysed data from 196,383 adults aged 60 and older from UK Biobank (a long-term research project which houses voluntarily shared health information from more than 500,000 people).

The researchers identified 1,769 cases of dementia over a follow-up period of eight years. The team grouped the participants into those with high, intermediate and low genetic risk for dementia.

To assess genetic risk, the researchers looked at previously published data and identified all known genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Each genetic risk factor was weighted according to the strength of its association with Alzheimer’s disease.

To assess lifestyle, researchers grouped participants into favourable, intermediate and unfavourable categories based on their self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.

A person with a healthy lifestyle was defined as someone who doesn't smoke, regularly takes part in physical activity, has a healthy diet and consumes alcohol moderately.

The team found that living a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced dementia risk across all genetic risk groups.

The study – entitled Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia – were simultaneously published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles. It was led by the University of Exeter in collaboration with researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and the University of South Australia.

To read the full study click here.

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Regular exercise, a balanced diet, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol are the best ways to prevent dementia – even if the illness runs in the family.
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