New Study Finds Healthier Lifestyle May Help Fight Dementia

For those living with dementia or the caregivers who support them, the illness can be a challenging journey. Families enduring this condition may not know how to navigate care, but it’s important to know, you’re not alone and help is available. 

Dementia in its many forms is referred to as a group of complex diseases that cause memory loss, impairing the ability to think or make everyday decisions. Though advances in medicine are ongoing and researchers are working aggressively to find a cure, there are still few known treatments to stop the progression of the disease. 

holding a man's hands with a walking stick

That said, a new study offers a glimmer of hope. Researchers say a healthy lifestyle might be one way to fend off the diagnosis for those with a genetic pre-disposition for dementia.   

The first-of-its-kind findings in a JAMA Network study show that lifestyle factors and genetic factors both play a role in the risk for dementia. Researchers determined people with a genetic history of dementia may lower their high risk by one-third by eating healthy foods, exercising and not smoking.

A team at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom followed nearly 200,000 people ages 60 and older, and found a 32 percent decrease of dementia in those who had a high genetic risk of dementia but incorporated healthier choices. 

To understand exactly how lifestyle factors may fend off dementia, the research team grouped the participants into high, intermediate and low genetic risk for dementia based on their lifestyle behaviors including:

  • self-reported diet
  • physical activity
  • smoking 
  • alcohol consumption

Those with a high genetic risk of dementia coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop symptoms of the disease compared to those with a low genetic risk and healthy lifestyle.

If you’re looking for some ideas to help jumpstart a healthier lifestyle, consider these tips. It may be less daunting to start small and build from there. 

While we can’t change the genes we inherit, this latest research shows we can control our lifestyle choices, and embracing healthier habits is one way to stack the odds in our favor.