Living a healthy lifestyle reduces dementia risk, regardless of genetics

15 July 2019

Researchers at the University of Exeter have found that living a healthy lifestyle could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, regardless of a person’s genetic predisposition. . The findings are published today (Sunday 14 July) in the Journal JAMA and have been presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles.

The team studied the medical records of 196,383 adults over 60 and followed them up for around eight years.

Researchers have so far discovered around 30 genes associated with Alzheimer’s risk, with certain versions linked to an increased risk and some associated with a lower risk of the disease. Researchers analysed each participant’s DNA to calculate their overall genetic risk score.

They asked the participants to answer a lifestyle questionnaire at the beginning of the study. The team used the answers to assess whether participants were leading a healthy lifestyle. This was based on having a healthy diet, being physically active, not smoking, and consuming alcohol moderately.

They found a link between a healthy lifestyle and a reduced dementia risk regardless of genetic risk score. Dementia rates were 32% lower in people with a high genetic risk that had a healthy lifestyle, compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle.

Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This well-conducted research was able to draw on the rich genetic and medical information from large numbers of volunteers held in the UK Biobank. This crucial resource is made possible thanks to half a million volunteers and it’s allowing researchers to reveal key details about the complex, interacting factors that influence our health.

“These important findings suggest that lifestyle changes can benefit everyone regardless of a person’s genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A healthy lifestyle includes staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, drinking within recommended guidelines, and not smoking.

“This is yet more evidence that there are things we can all do to reduce our risk of developing dementia, yet research suggests that only 34% of adults think that this is possible.

“Sadly, as genetics still plays an important role in influencing the risk of Alzheimer’s, there will always be people who address many or all of these lifestyle factors and still develop the disease. While we can’t change the genes we inherit, this research shows that changing our lifestyle can still help to stack the odds in our favour.”