NeuRA’s Dr Ruth Peters recently spoke with ABC Radio National to discuss the results from a new analysis of the UK Biobank study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles.
What do the results from this study show us?
This study builds on neuroscientific research from the last few years, which shows that the more unhealthy your lifestyle, the higher your risk of dementia. We also know that certain genes increase our risk of dementia. However, it was not previously known how these two factors influenced each other.
This study found these two factors – lifestyle and genetics – are independent of each other. This means that you can have a high genetic risk of dementia, but this risk can still be mitigated by having a healthy lifestyle.
Are these results definitive, or does more research need to be done?
The large sample size of this study of 200,000 people suggests that the results are significant and compelling.
One line of inquiry that could further validate this finding is to look at people aged in their thirties and forties. The average age of participants in this study was 64, but the latest research suggests that the earliest biological changes in the brain associated with dementia begin decades before you get the disease.
Focusing on including people in earlier life in future studies of dementia might also encourage people to not wait until their mid-60s to start living a healthy lifestyle.
If genes don’t overrule healthy lifestyle is the opposite also true? Can you live a healthy lifestyle but still be susceptible to dementia?
Yes, but we can try to reduce our risk as much as possible by improving our lifestyles. There is no danger to living a healthy lifestyle and this will also reduce your risk of other non-communicable diseases like heart disease and stroke.
How does Australia’s prevalence of dementia compare to other countries?
The incidence of dementia in Australia is comparable to other high-income countries. The incidence of dementia has been falling slightly in developed countries and we think this is partly because we are getting better at treating some of our risk factors.
It is important to remember that a number of the risk factors for dementia are also present in low- to middle-income countries. So no matter where people live, it is important that they be encouraged to pursue healthy lifestyles.