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7 Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

A study by the University of California has identified the seven biggest risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and the degree to which these increase the chances of developing the disease.

The study, which was published in The Lancet Neurology, estimated that around half of all Alzheimer’s cases could be avoided if more attention was paid to certain risk factors, and if improvements could be made in these areas.

The risk factors identified with Alzheimer’s were diabetes, mid-life high blood pressure, mid-life obesity, depression, lack of physical exercise, smoking, and poor education. It should be noted that these factors are not necessarily direct causes of Alzheimer’s, but that they all increase the risk of developing it.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and it attacks brain cells, nerves and the chemicals that carry messages to and from the brain. Its initial symptoms include reduced memory and reasoning ability.  People who are experiencing early stages of Alzheimer’s may have difficulty finding the right words to express what they mean. As the condition progresses it causes personality and behavioral changes and extreme confusion as well as short-term memory loss.

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease in unknown, but it is generally associated with aging.  People over 65 have around a one in fourteen chance of developing Alzheimer’s, with the risk being slightly higher for women than men. Once we reach the age of 80 our risk increases to about one in six. Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition meaning that the symptoms will gradually get worse, and at the moment there is no complete cure.

What Did the Study Show?

The findings of the study are an important step in developing a long term strategy for the prevention of Alzheimer’s as they identify the key risk areas. The main findings were:

  1. People with diabetes are 39% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people without diabetes
  2. People with mid-life high blood pressure are 61% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people with normal blood pressure levels in mid life
  3. People with mid-life obesity are 60% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people with normal mid-life weight
  4. People with depression are 90% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people who don’t suffer from depression
  5. People who are physically inactive are 82% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people who are physically active 
  6. People who smoke are 59% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people who don’t smoke
  7. People with a low level of education are 59% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people with a high level of education

Overall the researchers believed that by reducing the prevalence of these risk factors by just 10%, we could reduce the number of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide by 1.1 million. They estimated that a 20% reduction in these risk factors could prevent 3 million Alzheimer’s cases worldwide.

The key messages are that paying attention to our weight, reducing stress levels, getting enough exercise, stopping smoking, and eating a healthy balanced diet, as well as continuing our education as we go through life, could all help to reduce our risk of developing this very common yet very serious type of dementia.

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