Mid-life protective versus harmful lifestyle factors and risk of dementia

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We are pleased to see a review paper from our centre summarising evidence around lifestyle and neurodegeneration in midlife as expressed on functional magnetic resonance imaging published in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research Clinical Interventions journal. The paper was led by Hinesh Topiwala and looked at lifestyle and brain health in midlife (access it here).

In the paper, Dr Topiwala and colleagues summarise evidence from 29 studies focusing on the relationship between lifestyle factors and brain health in midlife, as expressed on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a brain scanning method.

Reviewing all the available evidence, the authors found seven lifestyle factors associated with midlife brain health or neurodegeneration which had been investigated using fMRI . The lifestyle factors which came out of the review were alcohol, cognitive training, excessive internet use, fasting, physical training, smoking and substance misuse. The authors state that cognitive and physical training appear to act as a protective factor for brain health, whereas alcohol misuse, smoking and substance misuse appear to be associated with neurodegeneration. The evidence related to excessive internet use and fasting was too limited to draw conclusions.

It is now known that the pathology for Alzheimer’s disease starts developing years before any symptoms of dementia occur, which has led to a lot of research focusing on earlier life and exploring risk factors contributing to late life dementia risk. While genes explain potentially 65% of dementia risk, lifestyle factors, which are modifiable and which we can change, are thought to play a significant role in dementia risk. The review led by the Centre for Dementia Prevention provides further proof that there are lifestyle changes that should be considered as early as midlife to benefit brain health in later life.

Previous research from Finland has found that a 2-year multi-domain intervention that included diet, exercise and cognitive training could maintain or even improve cognitive functioning in an elderly population. Hinesh Topiwala and colleagues conclude that their review provides an evidence base for further lifestyle and fMRI research to build upon. To this end, there are huge global initiatives led from our centre to gather empirical evidence on lifestyle factors in midlife, such as the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia or PREVENT Dementia study, and how the protective versus harmful factors contribute towards the risk of dementia.