Study Identifies Three Biggest Modifiable Risk Factors for Dementia, Faster Brain Aging

While there is no way to stop ourselves from developing dementia, there are modifiable risk factors that we can address to lower our chances of getting it. A new study looked into which of these factors within our control are the most dangerous.

Research recently published in Nature Communications investigated how both genetic and modifiable risk factors impact a network of higher-order regions of the brain particularly vulnerable to aging and Alzheimer’s. It involved data from around 40,000 participants in the long-running UK Biobank study to pinpoint which factors had the most influence.

Senior couple goes for walk

The team grouped 161 modifiable risk factors into 15 broader categories: alcohol consumption, blood pressure, cholesterol, depressive mood, diabetes, diet, education, hearing, inflammation, physical activity, pollution, sleep, smoking, socialization, and weight. They found that three in particular had the most impact.

Gwenaëlle Douaud, University of Oxford professor and lead researcher, says, “We know that a constellation of brain regions degenerates earlier in aging, and in this new study we have shown that these specific parts of the brain are most vulnerable to diabetes, traffic-related air pollution − increasingly a major player in dementia − and alcohol, of all the common risk factors for dementia.”

Traffic-related pollution has been linked with dementia in several studies, including a recent one that found it also causes issues for patients who have already developed the disease. In addition to these strongly influential modifiable factors, the team also found seven genetic clusters that can impact Alzheimer’s risk, along with the risk of cardiovascular death, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s.

Senior man enjoys the outdoors

The researchers say studies like this are important in understanding how genetics and factors more within our control can impact vulnerable parts of our brain.

Professor Anderson Winkler, study co-author from the National Institutes of Health, explains, “What makes this study special is that we examined the unique contribution of each modifiable risk factor by looking at all of them together to assess the resulting degeneration of this particular brain ‘weak spot’. It is with this kind of comprehensive, holistic approach − and once we had taken into account the effects of age and sex − that three emerged as the most harmful: diabetes, air pollution, and alcohol.”

You can read the whole study here.

Alzheimer’s Support

Fund Alzheimer’s research and supplies at The Alzheimer’s Site for free!