With age, many people’s fear of Alzheimer’s increases. But the personal risk can largely be reduced. Which factors are important.
Around 900 people in Germany develop Alzheimer’s disease every day. Those affected lose important cognitive abilities such as memory, the ability to learn and their judgment. Orientation, emotional abilities and language skills are also impaired.
Once the disease has broken out, it can at best be delayed with medication, but cannot be stopped or cured. However, there are things we can do ourselves to avoid the dreaded dementia as we get older. There are five risk factors that everyone can eliminate.
Healthy lifestyle: Five measures that pay off
For the study published in the British Medical Journal, data from 2,449 people, all over the age of 65, were evaluated. They took part in the “Chicago Health and Aging Project”, a cohort study in the USA . Participants answered questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle. One point was awarded for each of five healthy behaviors:
- Diet with lots of whole grains and vegetables and little fried foods and red meat
- mentally demanding activities in old age
- at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week
- do not smoke
- low to moderate alcohol consumption
The final score achieved (0 to 5) was examined for connections with the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease. The higher the value, the healthier the study participant’s lifestyle.
Longer life expectancy and longer mental fitness
The results clearly showed that a lifestyle with an unhealthy diet, a lack of mental and physical activity, as well as smoking and drinking alcohol increased the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease and having a lower life expectancy.
For women aged 65 who implemented four or all five of the above measures, the average remaining life expectancy was 24.2 years. On the other hand, women of the same age who did not implement any or only one of the health-promoting measures lived an average of 3.1 years less. During this shortened lifespan, they suffered from dementia for an average of 4.1 years . In the healthy participants, however, the dementia phase was only 2.6 years.
For men, the difference was even more serious: Healthy 65-year-olds had a remaining life expectancy of 23.1 years – 5.7 years more than those with an unhealthy lifestyle. On average, they suffered from dementia for 1.4 years of their remaining lifespan (23.1 years), while those living unhealthy lives suffered from dementia for 2.1 years of their remaining lifespan of 17.4 years.
Intellectual exchange and social contacts are also important
“The results clearly show that you can actively prevent Alzheimer’s dementia through a healthy lifestyle and increase your lifespan, especially a ‘dementia-free’ lifespan,” says Professor Hans Christoph Diener, press spokesman for the German Society for Neurology (DGN ). The study also shows that the more of the five healthy lifestyle factors are implemented, the greater the effect.
DGN General Secretary Professor Peter Berlit adds another aspect. “It is known – and there are numerous studies on this too – that high blood pressure can promote the development of dementia. If you look at the five lifestyle factors examined, you can see that four of the five are also preventative measures against high blood pressure.” The expert recommends a healthy diet low in salt and fat, sufficient physical exercise, little alcohol and not smoking.Both Diener and Berlit emphasize the importance of mental training and social interaction. If this were missing, the risk of dementia among those over 65 would increase significantly. Both doctors refer to a study from 2020. It is therefore extremely important to maintain social contacts, especially at the age at which many people stop working.