When it comes to the risk of developing dementia, the lifestyle adopted over the years seems to make the difference rather than age. In fact, people of any age without risk factors related to cognitive impairment, such as smoking or diabetes, can have brain performance equal to that of people 20 years younger. This is what emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment, and Disease Monitoring by a Canadian group of the Rotman Research Institute (LaPlume et al, Alzheimer's & Dementia, Jul 2022).
Lifestyle and risk of dementia
The fight against dementia is the challenge of our century. Previous studies have shown that lifestyle adjustments alone could reduce the risk of developing dementia by 40%. This means that 40% of cases of cognitive impairment worldwide could be avoided, or at least delayed, just by acting on some modifiable factors of one's lifestyle. The study we are talking about today is able to investigate the link between modifiable risk factors and cognitive impairment, exploring the effect of lifestyle on the brain in people of all ages.
Here are the habits that age the brain
Scientists have recruited 22 117 people, between the ages of 18 and 89. All volunteers were asked to undergo a test to evaluate cognitive function and to indicate their lifestyle adopted over the years. In particular, the researchers were interested in all those modifiable factors considered to be associated with an increased risk of dementia, such as smoking, having diabetes, hearing loss, drinking too much alcohol, being hypertensive or depressed. Comparing the results obtained with the indicated lifestyle, it emerged that each risk factor ages the brain by 3 years and that the effects are cumulative. This means that having three risk factors leads to 9-year brain aging. Not only that, it also emerged that when it comes to the risk of dementia, the chronological age matters less. In fact, people without risk factors but older have cognitive performance similar to those of people even 20 years younger but with risk factors. In addition, the scientists also observed that lifestyle has less impact on brain functioning in younger boys. However, even a minimal but protracted long-term impact has been shown to cause rapid cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia over the years.
In short, whether a person is 18 or 80 years old, the important thing is that he or she is able to correct the risk factors of cognitive impairment related to lifestyle. At all ages, these small changes protect the brain and reduce the risk of developing dementia by as much as 40%. So if you are smoking, it is important to stop, as it is important, if you suffer from diabetes, to be able to keep it under control by following the advice of your doctor and by acting on diet and physical activity. It is also important to limit hearing loss by using special aids but also to keep blood pressure under control, counteract depression and limit the consumption of beverages containing alcohol.