A new study suggests that the risk of dementia may be determined more by lifestyle than by age.
According to a recent study by Baycrest, adults without dementia risk factors such as smoking, diabetes or hearing loss have comparable brain health to those 10 to 20 years their junior. Just one dementia risk factor can age a person’s cognition by up to three years, according to research.
“Our results suggest that lifestyle factors may be more important than age in determining someone’s level of cognitive functioning. This is great news because there are many things you can do to change these factors, such as managing diabetes, combating hearing loss, and getting the support you need to quit smoking,” Dr. Annalize LaPlume, Postdoctoral Fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and lead author of the study.
The study is one of the first to look at lifestyle risk factors for dementia across the lifespan.
“While most studies of this nature look at middle and older adulthood, we included data from participants as young as 18 and found that risk factors negatively affect cognitive performance at all ages. This is important because risk factors can be addressed as early as possible and resolved.” It means it should be done,” says Nicole Anderson, RRI senior research fellow, Scientific Director of Baycrest’s Kimel Family Center for Brain Health and Wellness, and senior author of the study.
A study recently published in the journal
The researchers examined how eight modifiable risk factors for dementia—low education (less than a high school diploma), hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, alcohol or substance abuse, hypertension, smoking (currently or in the past four years), diabetes, and depression—affected participants’ performance on memory and attention tests.
Each factor caused a reduction in cognitive function that was equivalent to three years of age, with each additional factor having a similar effect. For instance, having three risk factors could result in a decline in cognitive function that is comparable to nine years of aging. As individuals aged, the consequences of the risk variables and their prevalence also rose.
“All in all, our research shows that you have the power to decrease your risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” says Dr. LaPlume. “Start addressing any risk factors you have now, whether you’re 18 or 90, and you’ll support your brain health to help yourself age fearlessly.”
Reference: “The adverse effect of modifiable dementia risk factors on cognition amplifies across the adult lifespan” by Annalise A. LaPlume, Ph.D., Larissa McKetton, Ph.D., Brian Levine, Ph.D., Angela K. Troyer, Ph.D. and Nicole D. Anderson, Ph.D., 13 July 2022, Alzheimer’s & Dementia Diagnosis Assessment & Disease Monitoring.
This study was funded by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
With additional funding, the researchers could look further into the differences between normal agers and “super agers” – people who have the identical cognitive performance to those several decades younger than them.
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