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The seven lifestyle factors linked to dementia

 

A report on ageing and dementia has uncovered a lack of awareness around the risk factors and widespread apathy among Australians to do anything to secure their brain health in old age.

Published by the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing, the report brings together the most recent research on cognitive ageing, including known risk factors.

It also identifies policy and research gaps.

Professor Kaarin Anstey, lead author of A Rapidly Ageing Australia: Cognitive Ageing And Decline Trends, said the research shows few people intend to change their behaviour to reduce their risk of dementia.

“We did a national survey and we found there are people who might believe in the benefit of risk factors but they don’t intend to change their lifestyle,” said Professor Anstey, CEPAR Chief Investigator and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at NeuRA.

The report also addresses the issue of ‘financial frailty’.

Professor Anstey said people’s cognitive function declines in ageing at a time when they’re having to make very complex financial decisions regarding superannuation and housing.

She said those with cognitive impairment are more susceptible to poor financial decision-making.

“At the moment there is no policy framework or anything in place to assist them through that,” she said

“We need to think about developing more decision support for people and be able to assess whether people have the capacity to manage complex financial arrangements,” said Professor Anstey.

There is also a gap in knowledge about the risk factors for the age-related brain disease, according to the report released at NSW Parliament House on Wednesday.

“People know about keeping your mind active, that’s fairly widely known but there is very little awareness about the cardiovascular risk factors for dementia,” said Professor Anstey.

Dementia is the leading cause of disability among Australians over 65 and the second leading cause of death in Australia.

The research shows the prevalence of dementia doubles every five years between the ages of 70 and 84.

Despite the possibility of dementia seeming so far into future at the age of 40, it really is something younger Australians need to start addressing now, said Professor Anstey.

Here are the seven modifiable lifestyle factors linked to dementia risk:

* Midlife hypertension

* Diabetes

* Low education

* Smoking

* Physical inactivity

* Mid-life obesity

* Depression

You can read the full report here.

What alcohol does to your looks: study

 

The received wisdom holds that alcohol consumption has a visibly ageing effect – but it’s an assumption that’s remained untested in a prospective study until now. Danish researchers looked at the effects alcohol and smoking on four visible age-related signs: arcus corneae (an opaque ring around the cornea), xanthelasmata (plaque on or around the eyelids), earlobe crease and male-pattern baldness – all of which have been associated with higher cardiovascular risk and mortality.

The researchers used a random sample of nearly 12,000  adults from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, a population-based, a large-scale prospective study that has been running since 1976. For this sample, the mean follow-up was 11.5 years.

A strong association was found between biological ageing of the body and heavy alcohol and tobacco consumption, affecting three of the four indicators. Only male-pattern baldness was not consistently associated with drinking or smoking.

Women who consumed 28 or more standard drinks per week had a 33% greater risk of arcus corneae, while men who had 35 or more standard drinks per week had a 35% greater risk of the same condition.

But the good news for more moderate drinkers is that the occurrence of age-related signs in this group was similar to that of non-drinkers. Moderate drinking counts as one drink per day for women and two drinks for men.

Low to moderate alcohol intake has been associated with health benefits in several studies, although that finding has been controversial and many argue that it is not causal.

The study authors from the University of Southern Denmark cautioned that the study was observational and couldn’t determine causality between smoking, drinking and ageing. They pointed out that the study didn’t account for stress or other factors potentially underlying both alcohol use and cardiovascular risk.

But they noted previous research suggesting mechanisms that might link alcohol consumption to premature ageing. One such study looked at male alcohol intake and telomere length, which is a marker for ageing. This study showed even minor alcohol consumption in midlife was significantly associated with shorter telomere length, with a 10-year difference in biological age between teetotallers and the highest consumption level.

You can read the full study here.