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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Study: 1 in 3 Alzheimer's Cases 'Preventable'

By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD

July 14, 2014 -- About one-third of Alzheimer's disease cases are preventable, according to research by the University of Cambridge, England.

The study identifies seven risk factors, with lack of exercise topping the list.

A previous study published in 2011 suggested as many as half of cases of Alzheimer's disease could be prevented, but the researchers of the new study say these earlier findings are likely to be less accurate because they did not take into account overlapping risk factors.

Soaring Number of Cases

Current estimates suggest that by 2050, more than 106.2 million people worldwide will be living with Alzheimer’s -- a huge increase from the 30.8 million people affected by the disease in 2010.

Researchers analyzed population-based data to work out the seven top risk factors for developing Alzheimer's disease. These are:

  1. Lack of exercise
  2. Diabetes
  3. High blood pressure in middle age
  4. Obesity in middle age
  5. Depression
  6. Smoking
  7. Low education

The team then looked at how reducing each of these factors would cut the number of cases of the disease.

The results varied according to whether they looked at the U.K., US., Europe, or the world as a whole.

Cutting Risk Factors

The researchers estimated that by reducing the relative risk posed by each lifestyle factor by just 10%, nearly 9 million cases of dementia could be prevented by 2050.

Worldwide, low education was identified as the main risk factor, followed by smoking and lack of exercise.

The research is published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

A Healthier Old Age

Study researcher Carol Brayne, MD, from the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, says in a statement: "Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages. We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.

"Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as allowing a healthier old age in general -- it’s a win-win situation.”

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