Healthy lifestyle can offset genetic risk of dementia

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Want to avoid dementia? This might help

The team grouped the participants into those with high, intermediate and low genetic risk for dementia.

In new work being presented today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles, CA, researchers from Rush University in IL found that these five changes were associated with slightly lower dementia rates across two study groups.

The report, compiled by the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, tracked 2,765 individuals over about a decade.

Three studies were presented: Rush University study from Chicago, a United Kingdom study and a study from the University of California, San Francisco.

Professor Elina Hyppönen, Director of UniSA's Australian Centre for Precision Health, was a senior collaborator advising on genetic and statistical aspects of the study, and says, "Our results clearly show that in the context of dementia risk, it is possible to notably reduce the inherited risk by our own actions". Researchers say that, as with heart disease, combating dementia will probably require a "cocktail" approach combining drugs and lifestyle changes.

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"I think the fundamental message needs to be that, (most people) don't know what your genetic risk of dementia is, and, even if you did, there is very little you can do about it", Llewellyn said. During office visits, they reported to their doctors how many healthy habits they stuck to. "Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk", said Dr Elzbieta Kuzma, study's lead author. The researchers then scored each factor, assigning participants a "1" if their behaviour was healthy in that category and a "0" if it was unhealthy.

The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is made up of leafy green vegetables, beans, olive oil, nuts and poultry, while avoiding red meat, fried foods and candies, the study's presenting author, Dr. Klodian Dhana, told NBC News. The researchers considered no current smoking, regular physical activity, healthy diet and moderate alcohol consumption as healthy behaviours. Overall, it was found that genes alone made a three-fold difference in the likelihood someone will get dementia.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia with Alzheimer's being the most common. The global cost of dementia in 2018 was roughly $1 trillion, a figure projected to double by 2030. It concluded that healthy habits could help prevent mental decline. There are a number of theories as to why, "but big ones are that we're doing a better job of controlling cardiovascular risks, people have given up smoking and people are better educated at older ages than they used to be". "Also, walk to the grocery store and read books!"

Results from the two studies reported at AAIC 2019 demonstrate that sensory impairment, particularly across multiple senses, is strongly associated with an increased risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Both an unfavorable (the least healthy) lifestyle and high genetic risk were associated with higher dementia risk compared with low genetic risk and a favorable (the most healthy) lifestyle score. "If your circulatory and lymphatic systems are working, they'll do a better job of cleaning out the bad stuff", Haaga said.

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