MINNEAPOLIS – Women are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease as they age. While there are genetic factors which make some people more vulnerable to the most common form of dementia, a new study finds there are still healthy lifestyle choices which can make a difference. Researchers working with the American Academy of Neurology say the more of these habits women engage in, the lower their chance of developing dementia gets.
These seven habits are part of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, which promotes both brain and cardiovascular health. The healthy list includes:
- Being active
- Eating better
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy blood pressure
- Controlling cholesterol
- Having low blood sugar
“Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it’s important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age,” says Pamela Rist, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in a media release. “The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”
During their study, researchers followed 13,720 women over 20 years and used Medicare data to see how many developed dementia over that time. These women had an average age of 54 at the start of the project. Overall, 1,771 (13%) received a dementia diagnosis over those two decades.
To measure how Life’s Simple 7 affected these outcomes, the team scored each woman based on how well they followed these healthy behaviors. Participants received a zero for poor or intermediate health or one point for ideal health in each category — creating a total possible score of seven.
Results show that the older women had an average score of 4.3 at the start of the study and 4.2 a decade later. This means, on average, the participants did a good job of following just over four of these healthy lifestyle habits.
Every healthy act cuts dementia risk
After adjusting the results to factor in each participant’s age and education, the team found that every one-point increase in score cut dementia risk by six percent. Simply put, the more healthy habits from the Life’s Simple 7 a woman engages in, the lower their risk for cognitive decline drops. Based on the team’s math, a perfect score of seven could drop a woman’s dementia risk by over 40 percent!
“It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for a half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia,” Rist adds.
The team is presenting their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting.