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There are at least 10 risk factors that may have a significant impact on someone’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and these could be targeted with preventative steps, new research suggests.
Focusing on these factors, which include cognitive activity, high body mass index in late life, depression, diabetes and high blood pressure, could provide doctors with evidence-based guidelines for preventing Alzheimer’s, researchers say.
Around 850,000 people in the UK are affected by dementia – around two thirds with Alzheimer’s disease – and the condition is a leading cause of death.
Experts are predicting rising case numbers as the population ages, but recent research suggests the number of cases appears to be reducing, perhaps due to lifestyle changes, better education and risk reduction strategies to prevent or delay dementia.
For the latest study, an international team of researchers led by Professor Jin-Tai Yu at Fudan University in China, reviewed and analysed current evidence to produce evidence-based suggestions on Alzheimer’s disease prevention.
The researchers gathered 395 studies for their analysis. From this, they proposed 21 suggestions, based on the evidence, that could be used in practice by clinicians to try to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Ten of these suggestions were backed by strong evidence as being risk factors – and therefore effective targets to help prevent the disease, they said.
These were: education, cognitive activity, high body mass index in later life, hyperhomocysteinaemia [a medical condition characterised by a a high level of homocysteine in the blood], depression, stress, diabetes, head trauma, hypertension in midlife and orthostatic hypotension, which is a form of low blood pressure that happens when you stand up from sitting.
A further nine suggestions had slightly weaker evidence to support them. They included regular exercise, getting enough good quality sleep, maintaining a healthy weight and good heart health in later life, avoiding smoking, and including vitamin C in the diet.
The authors pointed to some study limitations, such as the fact that studies cannot indicate a clear causal relationship. And, they said, the suggestions might be limited by geographic variability, definition of exposure and prevalence of risk factors at population level.
The authors concluded, in the study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, that further observational research and trials are “urgently needed” to strengthen the evidence base for uncovering more promising approaches to preventing Alzheimer’s disease.