A recent analysis of population based data has suggested around a third of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide may be attributed to modifiable risk factors, such as physical inactivity, being obese and smoking. These are factors which can be changed through modifying lifestyle, often leading to improved health and a reduced risk of developing long term conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
The aging population worldwide means cases of dementia are increasing rapidly, with the amount of people with dementia worldwide set to as much as triple by 2050. Whilst there is no current cure, the development of effective treatments for dementia could help to slow the progression of the disease and reduce prevalence and mortality rates.
The recent analysis confirms the large influence that lifestyle has on health and the importance of a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing long term conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. Although many cases of Alzheimer’s are not due to modifiable risk factors (for example age is still known as the biggest risk factor), positive lifestyle behaviours may help to prevent some cases and improve the overall health of the population, potentially also improving the condition for those already diagnosed.
When adjusting for non-independence of risk factors, the analysis found the following seven to be the most prevalent modifiable risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease:
Interestingly physical inactivity was attributed to the largest proportion of cases with modifiable risk in the UK, USA and Europe. Not only is inactivity a potential risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but like most risk factors it also increases the risk of developing other conditions too. However all of these factors can be improved through modifying lifestyle.
Although the analysis cannot determine cause and effect or the interplay between many factors throughout life and the mechanisms into the onset of Alzheimer’s are still not fully understood, it does suggest that reducing the prevalence of each of these modifiable risk factors could have the potential to prevent a substantial amount of cases, also highlighting the need for improved education and awareness.
Living a healthy lifestyle including being physically active, eating a healthy diet and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking may significantly help to reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the future and improve health worldwide.
There’s no better time to start improving our health than now.
Adie Blanchard – Researcher
Norton, E., Matthews, F. E., Barnes, D. E., Yaffe, K., & Brayne, C. (2014). Potential for primary prevention of Alzheimer’s disease: an analysis of population-based data. The Lancet, 13(8), 788-794