You're 4 Times More Likely to Get Dementia If You Don't Do This, Study Says


Dementia is viewed by many people as an inevitable side effect of aging, but it doesn't have to be. Time and time again, experts have pinpointed the various lifestyle interventions that can lower one's risk of memory loss and other forms of cognitive decline. In particular, researchers now say that failing to do this one thing can quadruple your odds of developing dementia—and if you're at a high genetic risk to begin with, your chances are even greater. By reversing this one aspect of your health, experts are optimistic that you can greatly reduce that risk level, even if other factors are stacked against you. Read on to find out which health habit can make or break your dementia risk, and how to take control of your cognitive health.

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If you don't stay fit, you're four times more likely to develop dementia.

According to a 2021 study published in the BMJ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, failing to stay fit and instead becoming frail makes you four times more likely to develop dementia.

Using data from over 196,000 adults over the age of 60 living in the U.K., the team calculated each subject's genetic risk of dementia and assigned them a score for frailty based on various indicators of health. "We observed a quadrupling in the rate of incident dementia in people with high frailty compared with people with low frailty," the study authors concluded. After controlling for various genetic determinants of dementia, they found the dementia risk in frail subjects was two and a half times higher than the control group.

"We're seeing increasing evidence that taking meaningful action during life can significantly reduce dementia risk," said David Ward, PhD, the study's lead author from the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Dalhousie University, via press release. "Our research is a major step forward in understanding how reducing frailty could help to dramatically improve a person's chances of avoiding dementia, regardless of their genetic predisposition to the condition. This is exciting because we believe that some of the underlying causes of frailty are in themselves preventable," he added.

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High genetic risk and high levels of frailty are a dangerous combination.

The study also noted that subjects who had high genetic risk on top of a high frailty score were far more likely to develop dementia than their healthier counterparts. "Individuals at high genetic risk and with high frailty were at 5.8 times greater dementia risk compared with those at low genetic risk and with low frailty," the study authors wrote.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may be able to test your genetic risk factors for certain forms of dementia—in particular, for Alzheimer's disease. "Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with Alzheimer's disease. Some genes increase your likelihood of developing the disease (risk genes). Others guarantee that you will develop a disease (deterministic genes), though these are rare. However, genetic risk factors are just one of the factors involved in getting Alzheimer's disease," their experts note.

It's within your power to reduce your dementia risk.

While dementia may not be fully preventable, you can actively reduce your risk by choosing to stay fit, the researchers say. "Frailty is strongly associated with dementia risk and affects the risk attributable to genetic factors," the study states. "Frailty should be considered an important modifiable risk factor for dementia and a target for dementia prevention strategies, even among people at high genetic risk," the team wrote.

Janice Ranson, PhD, from the University of Exeter Medical School, added via press release: "These findings have extremely positive implications, showing it's not the case that dementia is inevitable, even if you're at a genetic high risk. We can take meaningful action to reduce our risk; tackling frailty could be an effective strategy to maintaining brain health, as well as helping people stay mobile and independent for longer in later life."

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Here's how to prevent becoming frail as you age.

According to experts from Johns Hopkins Medicine, between seven and 12 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are considered clinically frail. "Risk rises with age—from one in 25 people between ages 65 and 74 to one in four of those older than age 84," they explain. In addition to raising your likelihood of developing dementia, they say this is of concern "because frailty increases the risk of infections, illnesses that have to be treated in the hospital, falls, and even disabilities."

Thankfully, there are several ways to prevent becoming frail as you age, beginning with recognizing the symptoms of frailty. Speak with your doctor if you are weak, fatigued, losing weight with no known explanation, walking more slowly or performing lower levels of physical activity than normal. A doctor can help you form a lifestyle intervention plan which will most often include changes to your diet, exercise habits, and more.

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