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MINNEAPOLIS – Seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors may play a role in lowering the risk of dementia in people at the highest genetic risk, according to research published in the May 25, 2022 online issue of Neurologythe medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology†
The seven cardiovascular and brain health factors, known as Life’s Simple 7 by the American Heart Association, are: being active, eating better, losing weight, not smoking, maintaining healthy blood pressure, managing cholesterol, and lowering blood sugar.
“These healthy habits in Life’s Simple 7 have been associated with a lower risk of dementia overall, but it’s uncertain whether the same is true for people at high genetic risk,” said study author Adrienne Tin, PhD, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. “The good news is that even those at the highest genetic risk, who live the same healthier lifestyle, are likely to have a lower risk of dementia.”
The study looked at 8,823 people of European descent and 2,738 people of African descent who were followed for 30 years. People were on average 54 years old at the start of the study.
Study participants reported their levels in all seven health factors. The total scores ranged from 0 to 14, with 0 representing the most unhealthy score and 14 the most healthy score. The mean score among those with European ancestry was 8.3 and the mean score among those with African ancestry was 6.6.
Researchers calculated genetic risk scores at the start of the study using genome-wide Alzheimer’s disease statistics, which have been used to study the genetic risk of dementia.
Participants with European ancestry were divided into five groups and those with African ancestry were divided into three groups based on genetic risk scores. The group with the highest genetic risk included people who had at least one copy of the APOE gene variant associated with Alzheimer’s disease, APOE e4. Of those with European ancestry, 27.9% had the APOE e4 variant, while of those with African ancestry, 40.4% had the APOE e4 variant. The lowest-risk group had the APOE e2 variant, which has been associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
At the end of the study, 1,603 people with European ancestry developed dementia and 631 people with African ancestry developed dementia.
For people of European ancestry, researchers found that people with the highest scores on the lifestyle factors had a lower risk of dementia in all five genetic risk groups, including the group with the highest genetic risk of dementia. For every one point increase in lifestyle factor score, there was a 9% lower risk of developing dementia. Among those of European ancestry, compared to the low lifestyle factor score category, the intermediate and high categories were associated with a 30% and 43% lower risk of dementia, respectively. Among those with African ancestry, the intermediate and high categories were associated with a 6% and 17% lower risk of dementia, respectively.
Among people of African descent, researchers found a similar pattern of declining dementia risk in all three groups in those with higher scores on the lifestyle factors. But researchers said the smaller number of participants in this group limited the findings, so more research is needed.
“Larger sample sizes of different populations are needed to get more reliable estimates of the effects of these modifiable health factors on dementia risk across different genetic risk groups and ancestral backgrounds,” Tin said.
A limitation of the study was the smaller sample size among people of African descent and that many African American participants were recruited from one location.
The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Learn more about dementia at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurological disorders and brain health. Follow Brain & Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with more than 38,000 members. The AAN is committed to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurological care. A neurologist is a physician with specialized training in diagnosing, treating, and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.
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