3 Big Dementia Risks That You Can Actually Change

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Obesity, physical inactivity and the lack of a high school diploma are the three greatest modifiable risk factors for developing dementia, according to a recent study.

In the U.S., more than 1 in 3 cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related types of dementia can be tied to modifiable factors — meaning factors that we can change or influence to an extent — with midlife obesity being the most prevalent, the researchers say.

Their findings were published in JAMA Neurology, a journal of the American Medical Association.

In a press release, Dr. Roch Nianogo, lead author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, says:

“About 10 years ago, when we conducted the initial study, we found that the top three modifiable risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia were physical inactivity, depression and smoking … today, the top three factors are midlife obesity, physical inactivity, and low education.”

Researchers involved in the study came from UCLA and the University of California, San Francisco, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. The study looked at data from more than 378,000 adults older than 18.

In the study, the researchers note that dementia risk factors appear to differ by sex, race and ethnicity. For example, the excess number of cases due to modifiable risk factors was higher among men compared with women.

The chief modifiable risk factor was midlife obesity for Black study participants, American Indian and Alaska Native participants, and white participants.

However, the top modifiable risk factors were low educational attainment for Hispanic participants and physical inactivity for Asian participants.

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