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Dementia: The four simple lifestyle changes to make to help reduce your risk

Dementia describes clusters of symptoms associated with brain decline but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms develop gradually over many years and eventually become more severe. Memory loss is often the first visible sign and as the condition progresses, this may be accompanied by more severe symptoms such as personality changes and hallucinations. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for dementia, so the focus has been on finding ways to reduce the risk. According to a new study, by making these four lifestyles changes your risk of developing the condition can be reduced by up to 32 percent.

New research has highlighted that living a healthy lifestyle may help offset a person’s genetic risk of dementia.

The research, published today in JAMA and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, from the University of Exeter, 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.

The research team wanted to see if basic healthy lifestyle choices might reduce the risk of developing dementia.

They used data from nearly 200,000 people who had taken part in the UK Biobank study.

The behaviours were:

  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating a wide range of healthy foods
  • Regular exercise for at least a few hours each week

All these risk factors have been linked with a lower risk of dementia.

Fiona Carragher, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said: “From research we supported, we know that a third of dementia cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes.

“This study takes our understanding a step further, showing that healthy behaviours can help even in people who have a higher risk due to their genes.

“This is a well-powered and thoughtfully designed study that starts to tease apart the complex interplay between our genes and lifestyle choices when it comes to dementia risk.

“Its strengths include using a combination of known Alzheimer’s risk genes to get a more accurate indication of genetic risk and its large sample size made possible through UK Biobank.

“Dementia is the most feared condition in the over 50s.

“Unsurprisingly, one of the most frequent questions we get asked is whether someone who has watched their parent develop dementia, will go on to develop it too.”

Some dementia risk factors are difficult or impossible to change.

These include:

Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop dementia. However, dementia is not a natural part of ageing

Genes: In general, genes alone are not thought to cause dementia. However, certain genetic factors are involved with some of the less common types. Dementia usually develops because of a combination of genetic and “environmental” factors, such as smoking and a lack of regular exercise

Lower levels of education

Research suggests other risk factors may also be important.

These include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Untreated depression
  • Loneliness or social isolation
  • Sitting for most of the day

If you’re over age 65, you’ll be told the signs and symptoms of dementia to look out for, said the national health body.

It added: “You’ll also be given advice on how to lower your risk of dementia.

“If you have not been invited for an NHS Health Check, ask your GP surgery.”

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