How to live longer: The risk factors that could make a 20-year difference in brain age
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There is no surefire way to achieve longevity, but avoiding disease is a logical starting point. Among the diseases to avoid is dementia, which is becoming a leading cause of death in many Western countries. According to new findings, having several risk factors for the disease could make a 20-year difference in the age of a person’s brain.
The findings of a new report suggest that lifestyle factors may be more important than age in determining an individual’s risk of dementia.
Results revealed that individuals with no risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, or hearing loss have similar brain health to people who are 20 years younger than them.
The research also suggested that a single dementia risk factor could reduce cognition by the equivalent of up to three years of ageing.
What’s more, having additional risk factors contributed to the same amount of decline.
For example, the findings suggested that having three risk factors could lead to a decline in cognitive performance equivalent to as much as nine years of ageing.
Doctor Annalise LaPlume, post-doctoral Fellow at Baycreast’s Roman Research Institute, led the study.
She said: “Our results suggest lifestyle factors may be more important than age in determining someone’s levels of cognitive functioning.
“This is great news since there’s a lot you can do to modify these factors, such as managing diabetes, addressing hearing loss, and getting the support you need to quit smoking.”
The researchers of the study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring, made the discovery after analysing data from more than 22,117 people.
A series of memory and attention tests helped assess the performance of participants.
Researchers looked at how this was impacted by eight different risk factors for cognitive decline, including low education, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, alcohol or substance abuse, hypertension, smoking, diabetes and depression.
Doctor LaPlume added: “While most studies of this nature look at mid- and older adulthood, we also included data from participants as young as 18, and we found that risk factors had a negative impact on cognitive performance across all ages.
“This is crucial as it means risk factors can and should be addressed as early as possible.
“All in all, our research shows that you have the power to decrease your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
“Start addressing any risk factors you have now, whether you’re 18 or 90, and you’ll support your brain health to help yourself age fearlessly.”
Avoiding risk factors is vital for reducing dementia risk, but further steps can be taken to preserve brain health.
Evidence shows that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and cereals, and low in red meat and sugar, could lower the risk of decline.
This is due to the high levels of antioxidants that these foods contain, which may protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s.
They are also associated with lower levels of cholesterol, which has been shown to contribute to problems with memory and thinking.
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