elderly man with head breaking apart to symbolise dementia or Alzheimer's disease
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Individuals at high genetic risk for dementia can reduce their risks though following seven healthy habits, according to research led by the University of Mississippi.

Set by the American Heart Association, the habits are: keeping active, eating a healthy diet, losing weight, not smoking, and keeping a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar level.

“These healthy habits in the Life’s Simple 7 have been linked to a lower risk of dementia overall, but it is uncertain whether the same applies to people with a high genetic risk,” said Adrienne Tin, a researcher at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, and first author on the Neurology paper describing the research.

“The good news is that even people who are at the highest genetic risk living by this same healthier lifestyle are likely to have a lower risk of dementia.”

There is concern that if people are told they are at high genetic risk for developing a condition like dementia that there is nothing they can do to prevent it. For example, those who carry the APOE e4 allele that significantly increases risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

To assess whether environmental changes could also benefit people at high genetic risk, the researchers assessed outcomes in 8,823 European Americans and 2,738 African Americans participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study.

Individuals in the ARIC study have been followed up since 1987-89 (average age of 54 years on enrolment) and this study used data collected until 2019. As well as information on rates of dementia, the group included in this study also had genetic data testing for incidence of dementia-related variants.

The participants were given a Life’s Simple 7 score between 0 and 14, with 14 indicating good adherence to all 7 habits.

While those at highest genetic risk for dementia were 37-44% more likely to develop the condition than those at lower risk, adherence to the seven good habits did lower dementia risk for all participants.

Higher Life’s Simple 7 scores reduced the relative risk of developing dementia by 9% per additional point scored, regardless of genetic risk category.

The researchers saw similar trends in the African American group to the European American group, but do suggest more information about risks in different ethnic groups is needed to provide all patients with accurate risk information.

“Larger sample sizes from diverse populations are needed to get more reliable estimates of the effects of these modifiable health factors on dementia risk within different genetic risk groups and ancestral backgrounds,” noted Tin in a press statement.

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