- Dementia risk increases with age. As the world's population ages, dementia rates could triple from 55 million today to 165 million in 2050.
- Medications can't prevent dementia, but certain lifestyle habits and daily routines are associated with a lower risk of dementia as people age.
- Daily exercise, household chores, and frequent social visits with friends/family may lower dementia risk by 35%, 21%, and 15%, respectively.
About 55 million older adults are living with dementia worldwide. It's estimated that 5 to 7 percent of people over age 60 have some form of dementia. Increased age is the most significant risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
By 2050, as the world's population continues to live longer and gets older, the number of people with dementia could triple to around 165 million people globally.
In the United States, Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964—the largest generational group in American history—are more and more susceptible to dementia with each passing year.
By 2030, all 70 million "Boomers" residing in the U.S. will be older than 65. Over the next few decades, dementia rates are expected to skyrocket. Roughly 9 million older Americans had dementia in 2020, and as the Baby Boomer generation advances in age, nearly 12 million could be living with dementia by 2040.
Modifiable Lifestyle Habits Can Offset Dementia Risk As We Age
What lifestyle choices can Baby Boomers and Gen Xers (born from 1965-1980) start making in midlife to lower their risk of late-onset dementia?
New research into physical and mental activities that affect dementia risk suggests that three not-so-obvious lifestyle factors strongly correlate with a lower risk of dementia as people age. These findings (Zhu et al., 2022) were published on July 27 in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology.
For this prospective cohort study, based on the U.K. Biobank project, senior author Huan Song and colleagues analyzed data from 501,376 participants, ages 40-69, who were dementia-free at the time of recruitment (2006-2010). Researchers followed up with participants for just over a decade. During the course of this 10-year study, 5,185 participants developed dementia.
3 Lifestyle Factors That May Lower Dementia Risk
- Frequent Physical Activity: Associated with a 35 percent lower risk of dementia.
- Housework-Related Activities (Chores): Associated with a 21 percent lower risk of dementia.
- Social Visits with Friends/Family: Associated with a 15 percent lower risk of dementia.
Based on self-reported questionnaires, the researchers used analytic models to estimate how physical activity and other lifestyle factors influenced dementia risk over the span of more than ten years.
"Many studies have identified potential risk factors for dementia, but we wanted to know more about a wide variety of lifestyle habits and their potential role in the prevention of dementia," Song said in a July 2022 news release. "Our study found that exercise, household chores, and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia."
Correlation Does Not Imply Causation
More research is needed to confirm the latest (2022) findings on the role that physical activity, household chores, and social visits may play in reducing dementia risk.
Notably, because correlation does not imply causation, these findings can only establish a correlative link between lifestyle habits and lowered dementia risk. For example, although people who regularly do household chores may have a 21 percent lower risk of dementia, that doesn't necessarily mean that doing chores in and of itself causes dementia risk to decrease. People in the habit of doing housework-related activities could be less prone to dementia for other reasons.
That being said, the results of this study are encouraging and suggest that making simple lifestyle adjustments, getting regular exercise, doing chores, and having an active social life, may help reduce dementia risk as we age.
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Jianwei Zhu, Fenfen Ge, Yu Zheng, Yuanyuan Qu, Wenwen Chen, Huazhen Yang, Lei Yang, Fang Fang, Huan Song. "Physical and Mental Activity, Disease Susceptibility, and Risk of Dementia A Prospective Cohort Study Based on UK Biobank." Neurology (First published: July 27, 2022) DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200701
GBD 2019 Dementia Forecasting Collaborators. "Estimation of the Global Prevalence of Dementia in 2019 and Forecasted Prevalence in 2050: An Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019." The Lancet: Public Health (First published: January 06, 2022) DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(21)00249-8