Lifestyle changes and treatment or prevention of chronic medical conditions may be all that’s necessary to defend against more than half of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide, according to a new study presented this week at the 2011 meeting of the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Paris.
Deborah Barnes, PhD, a mental health researcher at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, analyzed data from studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants globally. She concluded that the biggest modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer's in the United States are: physical inactivity, depression, smoking, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity, low education and diabetes. These risk factors are associated with up to 54 percent of Alzheimer's cases in the United States and 51 percent worldwide, according to Barnes.
“What's exciting is that this suggests that some very simple lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and quitting smoking, could have a tremendous impact on preventing Alzheimer's and other dementias in the United States and worldwide,” Barnes said in a release.
Barnes cautioned that her conclusions are based on the assumption that there is a causal association between each risk factor and Alzheimer's disease. “We are assuming that when you change the risk factor, then you change the risk,” Barnes said in the release. “What we need to do now is figure out whether that assumption is correct.”
Also presented at the international meeting was a new mathematical model that suggests reducing the prevalence of these lifestyle-based chronic disease risk factors by only 25 percent could prevent up to 3 million cases of Alzheimer's worldwide.