And the impact adds up: every additional risk factor may add 3 more years to your "brain age," scientists say.
Certain aspects of our risk for dementia are genetic. But each year, we're discovering more about little lifestyle factors that can make a big difference in our cognitive sharpness throughout the lifespan.
Alzheimer's disease (the most common form of dementia) is already one of the top 10 causes of death in America. Plus, rates of Alzheimer's disease are expected to triple between 2020-2060, so these discoveries have potential to make a massive impact in the health of humans.
In March 2021, we learned that these 13 things (including high blood pressure and social isolation) could make you more likely to get Alzheimer's. But how much does each of those factors matter? Figuring that out was the goal of the scientists behind a new study published in the July 2022 Alzheimer's Association journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring. After analysing data from thousands of people, they found that certain lifestyle factors can reduce dementia risk by 40%.
What This Brain Health Study Found
This study is one of the first, and is reportedly the largest, to look at lifestyle risk factors for dementia across the lifespan, the scientists involved say.
To land on this finding, a research team in Toronto tapped 22,117 people aged 18-89 to answer their 20-minute brain health assessment (which you, too, can take!). The test involves four cognitive tasks designed to measure memory and attention. After comparing the results with some common modifiable risk factors for dementia, they found that participants who had any of these eight common lifestyle factors essentially added three years of aging to their brains:
Smoking (currently or in the past four years)
Alcohol or substance abuse
An education level less than a high school diploma
Traumatic brain injury
Each additional risk factor led to a decrease in cognitive performance by as much as three years of ageing, they confirm, and each seemed to lead to a relatively similar amount of decline. That means that an individual with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and depression, for example, would have a brain that's about nine years "older" than that of a peer without those diagnoses.
The Bottom Line
It's never too early, or too late, to start taking steps to bolster your brain health. This study proves that these steps can make a large impact in your dementia risk:
Keep your brain engaged and your hearing tuned in
Stop smoking (if you do)
Seek treatment for any depression or alcohol or substance abuse
Try to keep blood pressure and blood sugar in check
The Vintage Avenue Team x