Whether you are 18 or 80, lifestyle can be more important than age when determining dementia risk

Summary: Lifestyle may be more important than age to determine a person’s cognitive function and future dementia risks, a new study reports.

Source: Baycrest

People without dementia risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes or hearing loss, have similar brain health as people who are 10 to 20 years younger than them, according to a new Baycrest study.

The study showed that a single dementia risk factor could reduce cognition by the equivalent of up to three years of aging.

“Our results suggest that lifestyle factors may be more important than age in determining a person’s cognitive functioning level. This is good news, as there is much you can do to change these factors, such as managing diabetes, managing hearing loss and getting it. support you need to quit smoking, ”says Dr. Annalize LaPlume, postdoc at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and lead author of the study.

The study is one of the first to look at lifestyle risk factors for dementia over a lifetime.

“While most studies of this kind look at mid- and older adulthood, we also included data from participants as young as 18 years old, and we found that risk factors had a negative impact on cognitive performance across all ages. This is crucial as it means that risk factors can and should be addressed as early as possible, ”said Dr. Nicole Anderson, senior researcher at RRI, Associate Scientific Director of Baycrest’s Kimel Family Center for Brain Health and Wellness and senior author of this study.

The study, published today in the journal Alzheimer’s and dementia: Diagnosis, assessment and disease monitoring, a journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, included data from 22,117 people ages 18 to 89 who completed the Cogniciti Brain Health Assessment, developed by Baycrest. Participants took the test in their own home by going to the Cognicitis website (https://cogniciti.com/). The test takes about 20 minutes to complete and consists of a background questionnaire and four cognitive tasks.

The study is one of the first to look at lifestyle risk factors for dementia over a lifetime. The image is in the public domain

The researchers looked at participants’ performance on memory and attention tests and how this was affected by eight modifiable risk factors for dementia: low education (less than a high school diploma), hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, alcohol or drug abuse, hypertension, smoking (currently or before for the past four years), diabetes and depression.

Each factor led to a decrease in cognitive performance with as much as three years of aging, with each additional factor contributing the same amount of decrease. For example, having three risk factors can lead to a decrease in cognitive performance equivalent to as much as nine years of aging. The effects of the risk factors increased with age, and so did the number of risk factors people had.

“All in all, our research shows that you have the power to reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” says Dr. LaPlume. “Start addressing any risk factors you have now, whether you are 18 or 90, and you want to support your brain health to help yourself age fearlessly.”

This research was supported by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

With additional funding, the researchers were able to take a closer look at the differences between normal ages and “super-ages” – people who have identical cognitive performance as those who are decades younger than them.

About this dementia research novelty

Author: Sophie Boisvert-Hearn
Source: Baycrest
Contact: Sophie Boisvert-Hearn – Baycrest
Picture: The image is in the public domain

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Original research: Open access.
“The negative effect of modifiable dementia risk factors on cognition is amplified throughout adult life” by Nicole Anderson et al. Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnosis assessment and disease monitoring


The negative effect of modifiable dementia risk factors on cognition is amplified throughout adult life


Reversible lifestyle behaviors (modifiable risk factors) can reduce the risk of dementia by 40%, but their prevalence and association with cognition throughout adult life is less well understood.


The links between the number of modifiable risk factors for dementia (low education, hypertension, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, alcohol or drug abuse, diabetes, smoking and depression) and cognition were examined in an online test (N = 22,117, 18-89 years).


Older adults (ages 66-89) had more risk factors than middle-aged (ages 45-65) and younger adults (ages 18-44). Polynomial regression revealed that each additional risk factor was associated with lower cognitive performance (equivalent to 3 years of aging), with a greater correlation as age increased. People without risk factors in the forties to seventies exhibited the same cognitive performance as people 10 or 20 years younger with many risk factors.


Modifiable dementia risk factors amplify age differences in life expectancy in cognitive performance.

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