8 October 2020

Healthy lifestyle cuts the risk of dementia in half

Dementia

New research shows that a healthy cardiovascular lifestyle almost cuts the risk of age-related dementia in half. The results open up the possibility that cardiovascular disease and dementia can be prevented simultaneously.

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Image: Colourbox.

A healthy lifestyle may be one of the keys to avoiding dementia later in life. Astonishing results from researchers at Rigshospitalet, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital and the University of Copenhagen show that you can almost cut your risk of age-related dementia in half if you follow the advice regarding a healthy lifestyle that is used to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Today, there are no medications that can cure or reduce the risk of dementia. According to one of the researchers behind the study, Professor and Chief Physician Ruth Frikke-Schmidt from the University of Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet, it is therefore crucial to intensify the preventive efforts in general, but especially in those parts of the population where targeted prevention shows the highest benefit – that is, among those who are most vulnerable to developing dementia.

‘We have mapped a combination of factors – age, gender, diabetes, smoking, blood pressure, education, physical activity, and the general variation in genes – which, when combined, can locate the groups that are most vulnerable to developing dementia in comparison to the general population. Our research results show that a healthy cardiovascular lifestyle almost cuts the risk of developing dementia in half, even in those parts of the population who see the greatest contribution from the genes. These results may form the basis for future prevention to be better targeted and thus provide the greatest possible effect for the individual’, says Ruth Frikke-Schmidt.

The new study has been published in the leading cardiovascular journal European Heart Journal and presented at the European Atherosclerosis Society's International Congress.

Targeted Prevention

According to Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, controlled clinical trials have shown that memory can be maintained or improved through a combination of an intensive prevention programme and supervised physical and brain training several times a week as well as dietary guidance and control of cardiovascular risk factors.

‘Economically, it is unrealistic to implement such a comprehensive prevention programme for all citizens, and therefore our new results are important in order to be able to tailor the programme to the parts of the population where it provides the greatest possible effect’, says Ruth Frikke-Schmidt.

Worldwide, about 50 million people are affected by dementia, and in Denmark alone, about 90,000 people live with the disease. The increasing global incidence of both dementia and cardiovascular disease means that both targeted and more general prevention is important, and Ruth Frikke-Schmidt sees great potential in thinking in terms of joint prevention for the two disease groups.

‘If we are able to implement this, politically and within our healthcare system, we now have a unique opportunity to add disease-free years to old age and ensure a better quality of life for senior citizens and their families’, says Ruth Frikke-Schmidt.

More Than 60,000 Blood Samples Analysed

The researchers have analysed data from questionnaires and blood from 62,000 people from the Herlev-Østerbro survey and the Østerbro survey. The research results showed that the combination of absence of diabetes, non-smoking status and an education that is longer than eight years almost cut the risk of age-related dementia in half, even in those parts of the population which saw the greatest contribution from genes. Increased physical activity and normal blood pressure were also beneficial.

The research project was carried out in collaboration with M.D., PhD Ida Juul Rasmussen (Rigshospitalet), Staff Specialist, PhD and Postdoc, Katrine Laura Rasmussen (Rigshospitalet and Nordsjællands Hospital), Professor, Chief Physician, DMSc, Børge G. Nordestgaard (Herlev-Gentofte Hospital) and Professor, Chief Physician, DMSc, Anne Tybjærg-Hansen (Rigshospitalet).

The research project is supported by Rigshospitalet's Research Committee, the Capital Region of Denmark's Research Funding, the Lundbeck Foundation and the Danish Heart Association.

Contact Person:

Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, Professor, Chief Physician, DMSc, PhD
Department of Clinical Biochemistry
Rigshospitalet & Department of Clinical Medicine
The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen
Email: ruth.frikke-schmidt@regionh.dk
Telephone +45 3545 4348 (work); +45 22812081 (mobile)