Dementia isn't inevitable: Study finds which healthy habits offset risk

It's easy to fall into the trap of believing dementia and Alzheimer's disease are the inevitable outcome of growing old, but a new study says that isn't the case. Despite having a genetic risk for the diseases, a newly published study found that certain healthy habits offset the risk, indicating that how you live life has a huge influence on whether dementia will ultimately be a part of it.

The research comes from the University of Exeter and was recently presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2019 in California. According to the study, people who had a genetic risk for developing dementia, but who also followed a healthy lifestyle, were a massive 32-percent less likely to develop the brain disease.

In comparison, individuals who had a genetic risk for developing dementia and who also lead an 'unfavorable lifestyle' had nearly triple the chance of developing the disease compared to people with low genetic risks and healthy lifestyles. The findings are a startling example of how big of an impact lifestyle has on one's long-term health outcomes.

The findings were based on an analysis of UK Biobank data from more than 196,000 adults of European ancestry ages 60 and older. Based on their analysis, the researchers found that of those adults, 1,769 had developed dementia during eight years of follow-up. The participants were split into three groups based on genetic risk of developing the disease.

Though individuals can't change their genetic risk, they can modify their lifestyle and ultimately have a profound effect on whether they develop Alzheimer's, the team found. Healthy behaviors associated with lowered risk included only moderate alcohol consumption, getting regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking. This same lifestyle has been found by past research to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, as well.