puzzle blocks losing connections in brain dementia concept

Just 4 out of 5 Healthy Behaviours Needed to Reduce Alzheimer's Risk

By the wlr team

Key Takeaway

  • 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s for people adhering to at least 4 of 5 specified healthy lifestyle factors

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are 850,0001 people with dementia in the UK. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

There is no cure, but there are steps you can take that substantially reduce your risk. Recent research builds on the mounting evidence that we have more control than we think.

Data from two NIH studies show 60% lower risk among those with highest number of healthy behaviours.2

Combining more healthy lifestyle behaviours was associated with substantially lower risk for Alzheimer's disease in a study that included data from nearly 3,000 research participants.

Those who adhered to at least four of the five specified healthy behaviours were found to have a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer's. The behaviours were:

  • Physical activity
  • Not smoking
  • Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption
  • A high-quality diet
  • Cognitive activities

The research was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, in June 2020 and was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

What is Alzheimer's? Concept of brain as intricate maze
In the brain of someone with Alzheimer's disease, there are two different proteins called amyloid and tau. Deposits of amyloid, called plaques, build up around brain cells. Deposits of tau form "tangles" within brain cells. Alzheimer's is the most commom type of dementia.

The Study

The research team reviewed data from two NIA-funded longitudinal study populations: Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) and the Memory and Aging Project (MAP).

They selected participants from those studies who had data available on their diet, lifestyle factors, genetics, and clinical assessments for Alzheimer's disease. The resulting data pool included 1,845 participants from CHAP and 920 from MAP.

The researchers scored each participant based on five healthy lifestyle factors, all of which have important health benefits:

  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity
  • Not smoking - Established research has confirmed that even in people 60 or older who have been smoking for decades, quitting will improve health.
  • Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption
  • A high-quality, Mediterranean-DASH type diet which focuses on plant-based foods.
  • Engagement in late-life cognitive activities

The research team then compared the scores with outcomes of clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's in the CHAP and MAP participants.

The Results

Compared to participants with none, or one, of the healthy lifestyle factors, the risk of Alzheimer's was:

  • 37% lower in those with two to three of the factors
  • 60% lower in those with four to five of the factors

Lead author of the paper, Klodian Dhana, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center, emphasized that the combination of healthy lifestyle factors is key.

NIA Comments

NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, MD said:

"This observational study provides more evidence on how a combination of modifiable behaviors may mitigate Alzheimer's disease risk. " The findings strengthen the association between healthy behaviours and lower risk.”

Dallas Anderson, Ph.D., program director in the Division of Neuroscience at NIA said:

"This population-based study helps paint the picture of how multiple factors are likely playing parts in Alzheimer's disease risk. It's not a clear cause and effect result, but a strong finding because of the dual data sets and combination of modifiable lifestyle factors that appear to lead to risk reduction."

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References and Resources

1. Alzheimer's Research UK Dementia Statistics Hub

2. Dhana K, et al. Healthy lifestyle and the risk of Alzheimer's dementia: Findings from two longitudinal studies. Neurology. 2020;95:1-10. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000009816

How Alzheimer's Changes the Brain is a short video produced by NIA which does a great job of explaining what happens in a brain affected by Alzheimer's.

Causes of Dementia is an introduction to different types of dementia and how they are caused by the NHS

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