Adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors may reduce dementia risk in those with family history – Healio

May 26, 2021

2 min read


Brellenthin A, et al. Presentation 74. Presented at: American Heart Association Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions; May 20-21, 2021 (virtual meeting).

Disclosures: Brellenthin and Elkind report no relevant financial disclosures.

The adoption of at least three healthy behaviors was associated with reduced risk for dementia among individuals with familial dementia, a speaker reported.

“When dementia runs in a family, both genetics and nongenetic factors, such as dietary patterns, physical activity and smoking status, affect an individual’s overall risk,” Angelique Brellenthin, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, said in a press release. “This means there may be opportunities for reducing risk by addressing those nongenetic factors.”

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The study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions, included 302,239 individuals aged 50 to 73 years without dementia at baseline. Each participant completed baseline examinations from 2006 to 2010 as part of the UK Biobank study.

Familial dementia was defined as dementia in a first-degree relative such as a mother, father or siblings. Participants were categorized into groups depending on if they had two or less, three, four, five or six healthy behaviors, including:

  • a BMI of < 30 kg/m2;
  • moderate to vigorous physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week;
  • sleep duration of 6 to 9 hours per day;
  • drinking in moderation (> 0 to < 14 drinks per week for men and > 0 to < 7 drinks per week for women);
  • not smoking; and
  • eating a healthy diet of more fruits and vegetables and less processed meats and refined grains.

In the cohort, 0.6% of participants developed dementia during the 8-year follow-up. Those with family history of dementia had a more than 70% increased risk for dementia compared with those without (HR = 1.72; 95% CI, 1.53-1.93).

After adjustment for confounders, including familial dementia, compared with individuals with two or fewer healthy behaviors, those with three (HR = 0.7; 95% CI, 0.57-0.86), four (HR = 0.58; 95% CI, 0.48-0.7), five (HR = 0.58; 95% CI, 0.48-0.7) or six (HR = 0.49; 95% CI, 0.39-0.6) healthy behaviors had reduced risk for dementia.

In the joint analysis, compared with individuals with familial dementia and two of fewer healthy behaviors, individuals with familial dementia and at least three healthy behaviors (HR = 0.65; 95% CI, 0.42-0.99), individuals with no familial dementia and two or fewer healthy behaviors (HR = 0.74; 95% CI, 0.47-1.15) and individuals with no familial dementia and at least three healthy behaviors (HR = 0.37; 95% CI, 0.25-0.56) had reduced risk for dementia.

According to the researchers, engaging in at least three healthy lifestyle behaviors may significantly lower dementia risk, even among those at higher risk due to familial dementia.

Mitchell S.V. Elkind

“This study provides important evidence that a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on brain health,” Mitchell S.V. Elkind, MD, MS, FAHA, FAAN, president of the AHA, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and at the Mailman School of Public Health and attending neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said in the release. “It should be reassuring and inspiring to people to know that following just a few healthy behaviors can delay cognitive decline, prevent dementia and preserve brain health.”