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These four habits could be setting you up for dementia in later life, new study says

Dementia and general cognitive decline are often thought of as something that happens as we get older. Although dementia is far more common among people aged over 65, your age is not the only determining factor of your brain health.

Previous research has confirmed that around 40 percent of dementia cases could actually be avoided by making certain lifestyle changes.

And now a new study has specified four habits that could be setting you up to develop the condition in later life.

According to groundbreaking research, published in Nature Communications journal, smoking is the most damaging habit you can have for your cognitive health.

Combining this with drinking large amounts of alcohol, not exercising and having limited social contact raises your chances of dementia even more.

The study followed more than 32,000 adults between 50 and 104 over 14 countries for up to 15 years.

Researchers, from University College London (UCL), examined 16 different lifestyle combinations in order to isolate the effects of smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and social contact on cognitive decline.

Regardless of other lifestyle factors, non-smokers consistently showed slower rates of cognitive decline compared to smokers.

This suggests that quitting smoking or never starting in the first place could be the most vital step in preserving brain function as we get older.

Dr Mikaela Bloomberg, from UCL, explained: “Our findings suggest that among the healthy behaviours we examined, not smoking may be among the most important in terms of maintaining cognitive function.

“For people who aren’t able to stop smoking, our results suggest that engaging in other healthy behaviours such as regular exercise, moderate alcohol consumption and being socially active may help offset adverse cognitive effects associated with smoking.”

When focusing on these lifestyle factors, study participants were categorised as either current or non-smokers, no-to-moderate or heavy drinkers, weekly moderate-plus-vigorous activity or less exercisers and people who had weekly or less than weekly social contact.

Their cognitive function was measured using two tests including a memory test and a verbal fluency test.

The tests were repeated at multiple time points over the years, allowing the researchers to track how cognitive function changed over time for each lifestyle profile.

Overall it was found that smokers who drank heavily, infrequently exercised, and had limited social contact showed the fastest rate of cognitive decline.

But importantly, smokers who followed all other healthy behaviours still showed faster cognitive decline than non-smokers.

And among non-smokers, the differences in other lifestyle factors had much smaller effects on the brain.

The NHS recommends the following to lower your risk for dementia:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Keeping alcohol within recommended limits
  • Stopping smoking
  • Keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level
  • Regular social contact.

Early symptoms of dementia can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

If you think you or someone you know is experiencing dementia you should speak to a doctor.


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