Saturday, July 22, 2017

Study: 33% of dementia cases could be prevented by avoiding certain risk factors, including 9% by reducing mid-life hearing loss

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

One-third of the world's dementia cases might be prevented if people avoided nine very different risk factors in three stages of life, according to experts speaking at the 2017 Alzheimer's Association International Conference.

The factors, by age group, are: going to school beyond age 15; managing high blood pressure, obesity and (this was something new) hearing loss between 45 and 65; and reducing smoking, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes and social isolation in later life.

The researchers said resolving those factors could reduce dementia cases by 33 percent. In comparison, they said that finding a way to eliminate the major genetic risk factor for dementia, called apolipoprotein E (ApoE), would prevent only 7 percent of cases.

The study, published in The Lancet, the leading British medical journal, brought together 24 international experts to review existing research. They presented their findings at the Alzheimer's conference in London, England, Robert Preidt reports for HealthDay.

"Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families, and in doing so, will transform the future of society," lead author Gill Livingston, a professor at University College London, said in a news release.

About 47 million people have dementia, and the number is estimated to nearly triple by 2050.  An estimated 69,000 Kentuckians were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2016, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The researchers said targeting three of the risk factors would have the most impact on dementia prevention. One of them, reducing hearing loss between 45 and 65, had not been quantified before.

The researchers estimated reducing hearing loss in mid-life could cut the number of dementia cases by 9 percent. They don't yet know why hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia, but said it could lead to social isolation and depression, which are known to contribute to cognitive decline. They said more research is needed to see if hearing aids would reduce this risk.

Schooling beyond the age 15 would reduce the total number of dementia cases by 8 percent, the report estimated. The researchers said low education "is thought to result in vulnerability to cognitive decline because it results in less cognitive reserve," which Harvard Medical School describes as "your brain's ability to improvise and find alternate ways of getting a job done" and says is developed by a lifetime of education and curiosity.

The researchers estimated that stopping smoking later in life could reduce the number of dementia cases by 5 percent because quitting reduces neurotoxins and improves heart health, which then improves brain health.

Livingston told HealthDay that dementia is usually diagnosed later in life, but brain changes related to the disease develop years before the symptoms appear: "We believe that a broader approach to prevention of dementia which reflects these changing risk factors will benefit our aging societies and help to prevent the rising number of dementia cases globally."

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