"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.”

By Ian Horswill


Posted on July 15, 2019

Nearly everyone can reduce their chance of developing dementia, even if there is a genetic risk, by living a healthy lifestyle, new published research states.

The study by Dementia Research at the University of Exeter, UK, involved nearly 200,000 people and was simultaneously published in JAMA and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles.

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The research found that the risk of dementia was 32 per cent lower in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those who had an unhealthy lifestyle.

“This is the first study to analyse the extent to which you may offset your genetic risk of dementia by living a healthy lifestyle. Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia. Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk,” said Joint lead author Dr Elżbieta Kuźma, at the University of Exeter Medical School.

A healthy lifestyle score in the research was based on a combination of exercise, diet, alcohol and smoking.

A healthy lifestyle:

  • Doesn’t currently smoke
  • Cycles at normal pace for two-and-a-half hours a week
  • Eats a balanced diet that includes more than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eats fish twice a week and rarely eats processed meat
  • Drinks up to one pint of beer a day

An unhealthy lifestyle

  • Smokes regularly
  • No regular exercise
  • Eats a diet that includes less than three servings of fruit and vegetables a week, and includes two or more servings of processed meat and of red meat a week
  • Drinks at least three pints of beer a day

The study followed 196,383 adults aged 64 and over for eight years.

It analysed people’s DNA to assess their genetic risk of developing the disease.

The study showed there were 18 cases of dementia per 1,000 people if they were born with high-risk genes and then led an unhealthy lifestyle.

But that went down to 11 per 1,000 people during the study if those high-risk people had a healthy lifestyle.

Joint lead author Dr David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School and the Alan Turing Institute, said: “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.”

The study was led by the University of Exeter in collaboration with researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and the University of South Australia.