New Study Shows Genetic Risks of Dementia Can Be Lowered with a Healthy Lifestyle

Even those with a genetic predisposition for dementia can lower their risks by living a healthy lifestyle.

Even if dementia runs in the family, the risk is lowered by leading a healthy lifestyle, new research has discovered. 

The team of researchers at the University of Exeter in England, found this interesting and promising information while gathering data on nearly 200,000 people. They discovered that the risk can be lowered by as much as one third.

The study was published on Sunday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and was revealed at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles, U.S.


What is a "healthy lifestyle"?

The researchers considered people with a healthy lifestyle as those who scored highly in a combination of diet, smoking, exercise, and alcohol. 

New Study Shows Genetic Risks of Dementia Can Be Lowered with a Healthy Lifestyle
Kinnegad 5KM 2014. Source: Peter Mooney/Flickr

A healthy person would: 

  • Not currently be a smoker
  • Cycle or exercise at a normal pace for at least two hours a week
  • Eat a balanced diet with at least three vegetable or fruit portions a day, eat fish twice a week and rarely eat processed meats
  • Drink only up to one pint of alcohol a day

And an "unhealthy" one?

Those who scored as leading unhealthy lifestyles would encompass the following points: 

  • Smokes regularly
  • Does not exercise regularly
  • Eats only up to three vegetable or fruit portions per week, and eats up to or more than two processed meat servings per week
  • Drinks a minimum of three pints a day
New Study Shows Genetic Risks of Dementia Can Be Lowered with a Healthy Lifestyle
15 bottles of beer on the wall. Source: Jörg Schubert/Flickr

What did the study discover about the lifestyle link to dementia?

The study analyzed the DNA of 196,383 people from the age of 60 years old upwards, over eight years.

The aim was to assess the genetic risks of developing dementia. 

For those leading unhealthy lifestyles, the study showed that 18 out of 1,000 people born with high-risk genes caught the disease. 

Whereas only 11 out 1,000 of high-risk people caught it if they led a healthy lifestyle.

New Study Shows Genetic Risks of Dementia Can Be Lowered with a Healthy Lifestyle
Combination of two brain diagrams for comparison. On the left is a 'normal' brain, on the right is the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease. Source: Garrondo/Wikimedia Commons

Even though these may not seem like hugely diverse numbers between healthy and unhealthy people, the researchers said that even cutting dementia rates by a third would have a strong impact on older age groups where the disease is more common. 

Sixty years old is still considered young in terms of developing dementia. 

Dr. Davild Llewellyn, the joint lead author of the study, said "It could equate to hundreds of thousands of people," if the number of people developing dementia was cut down by a third


Even though this research cannot cure dementia or stop people from entirely developing it, it does spot patterns in order to help reduce the chances of catching the disease. 

New Study Shows Genetic Risks of Dementia Can Be Lowered with a Healthy Lifestyle
Old people in Sicily. Source: Andrea Squatrito/Flickr

It also sheds light on the belief that everyone with dementia was passed down their genes and is 100 percent set on developing the disease. Even those people predisposed genetically can minimize their risks.

"This research delivers a really important message that undermines a fatalistic view of dementia. Some people believe it's inevitable they'll develop dementia because of their genetics. However it appears that you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle," said Llewellyn

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