Seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors may play a role in lowering the risk of dementia in people with the highest genetic risk, according to research published in the May 25, 2022, online issue of Neurology.

Being active, eating better, losing weight, not smoking, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and reducing blood sugar are some of the cardiovascular and brain health factors.

The Life's Simple 7 have been linked to a lower risk of dementia overall, but it is unclear if the same applies to people with a high genetic risk.

The study looked at people with European and African ancestry and followed them for 30 years. At the beginning of the study, people had an average age of 54.

The study participants reported their health factors. The total scores ranged from 0 to 14, with 0 representing the most unhealthy score and 14 representing the healthiest score. The average score for those with European ancestry was 8.3, while the average score for those with African ancestry was 6.6.

The genetic risk for dementia was calculated using the statistics of Alzheimer's disease, which were used to study the genetic risk.

People with European ancestry were grouped into five groups and people with African ancestry were grouped into three groups based on their genetic risk scores. The group with the highest genetic risk included people who had at least one copy of the APOE gene variant associated with Alzheimer's disease. 27.9% of those with European ancestry had the APOE e4 variant, while of those with African ancestry, 40.4% had the variant. The group with the lowest risk had the APOE e2 variant.

By the end of the study, 1,603 people with European ancestry developed dementia, while 631 people with African ancestry developed dementia.

Researchers found that people with the highest scores in lifestyle factors had a lower risk of dementia than people with the highest genetic risk. There was a 9% lower risk of developing dementia for each one-point increase in the lifestyle factor score. Compared with the low category of the lifestyle factor score, the intermediate and high categories were associated with 30% and 43% lower risk for dementia, respectively. The intermediate and high categories were associated with a lower risk for dementia.

Researchers found a similar pattern of decline in dementia risk among people with African ancestry who had higher scores on lifestyle factors. More research is needed because the number of participants limited the findings.

Larger sample sizes from diverse populations are needed to get more reliable estimates of the effects of these modifiable health factors on dementia risk.

A limitation of the study was the small sample size of people with African ancestry and the fact that many African American participants were recruited from one location.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Human Genome Research Institute supported the study.

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The materials were provided by the American Academy of Neurology. Content can be edited for style and length.