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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Lifestyle Changes May Prevent Alzheimer's

Researchers Say Reduction in Risk Factors Could Lower Rate of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Risk Factors continued...

Another 14% of cases worldwide were attributed to smoking, 13% to physical inactivity, 10% to depression, 5% to midlife hypertension, 2% to diabetes, and 2% to obesity.

In the U.S., however, lack of exercise was the No. 1 problem, contributing to 21% of preventable cases of Alzheimer's disease.

Sedentary lives contribute to three of the other risk factors -- diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, Barnes says.

Depression had the second biggest impact on Alzheimer's cases in the U.S., accounting for 15% of cases, followed by smoking, at 11%. Also, 8% of cases were attributable to midlife hypertension, 7% to midlife obesity, 7% to low education, and 3% to diabetes.

Study Limitations

The major limitation of the study was the central assumption that the seven risk factors in the analysis cause Alzheimer's, which has not been proven. Also unknown is whether removal of a risk factor would result in fewer cases of dementia.

Asked if setting up programs to help people change their lifestyles would be prohibitively expensive, Barnes says, "You couldn't put a price on it. But it gives us a little bit of hope about things we could do now [to thwart] the epidemic that is coming our way."

Anti-smoking campaigns with "edgy ads that appeal to kids" have had a huge impact in keeping youngsters from lighting up, Barnes adds.

Ronald Peterson, MD, director of the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says, "Assuming each risk factor is causal, and we don't know that, only that there is an association, the point [of the study] is well taken.

"If we ratchet down some of the risk factors, we will have an impact [on Alzheimer's disease]. I don't think we'll cut cases by 50%, but we don't have to be passive either," he tells WebMD.

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