A third of cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented if people start taking steps to improve their lifestyles, a study published in the journal Lancet Neurology has claimed.
Research was carried out to understand the impact seven lifestyle risk factors had on a person’s chance of developing the disease.
The factors were diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, physical inactivity, depression, smoking and low educational achievement, all of which have previously been linked to Alzheimer’s
Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked into how the seven risk factors affected the population-attributable risk (PAR) of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the US, Europe and the UK, suggesting a third of cases could be prevented if people adopt healthy lifestyle changes.
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “While age is the biggest risk factor for most cases of Alzheimer’s, there are a number of lifestyle and general health factors that could increase or decrease a person’s chances of developing the disease.
“However, we still do not fully understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
“As there is still no certain way to prevent Alzheimer’s, research must continue to build the strongest evidence around health and environmental factors to help individuals reduce their risk.
“This new study also highlights that many cases are not due to modifiable risk factors which underlines the need to drive investment into new treatment research to provide hope for those affected today and tomorrow.”
Although past research estimated lifestyle changes could prevent half of cases, the study claimed the true number is closer to a third because some factors, such as physical inactivity and midlife obesity, are interlinked risks.
Professor Carol Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, led the study and said: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as allowing a healthier old age in general it’s a win-win situation.
“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages. We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”
It has been estimated that the worldwide number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease will reach over 106m people by 2050, a sharp increase from the 30m people reported to be living with the illness in 2010.
Co-author of the study, Dr Deborah Barnes from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center said: “It’s important that we have as accurate an estimate of the projected prevalence of Alzheimer’s as possible, as well as accurate estimates of the potential impact of lifestyle changes at a societal level.
Alzheimer’s disease is placing an ever increasing burden on health services worldwide as well as on both patients and their carers. Our hope is that these estimates will help public health professionals and health policy makers design effective strategies to prevent and manage this disease.”