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What College Students Can Do to Lower Alzheimer's Risk: The Lancet Report on Lifestyle & Dementia Prevention

If you are a young adult, wondering what you can do to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease (AD), you may be interested in a recent study published by The Lancet.  The first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care, involved 24 experts from various countries to review countless studies, and compile them into a report on lifestyle modification and reduction of Alzheimer’s dementia. 

Worldwide Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s estimated that approximately 47 million people around the globe have dementia.  By the year 2050, that number is expected to triple, along with the rising cost of care for people with dementia.  In 2015 it was estimated that the global cost of dementia was around $818 billion—triple that number and you will get the projected cost of care in the year 2050.

Dementia Prevention

The recent Lancet report estimates that up to a third of the cases of dementia, worldwide, could be prevented if the following risk factors are managed throughout a person’s lifetime:

1. Education
This involves being educated in general, NOT education about Alzheimer’s disease.  Many studies have found a connection between education and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  Some experts believe this results from a phenomenon called cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s resilience to neuropathological (diseases of the brain) damage.  Other risk factors evaluated by The Lancet team included:
2.High blood pressure management
3.Hearing loss prevention and treatment
4.Regular exercise
5.Healthy diet
6.Depression management
7.Smoking cessation
8.Diabetes management
9.Socialization (particularly in late life)

The Lancet team considered each of the 9 factors individually. Then they went on to consider how each risk factor impacted the others.  Finally, a report was compiled and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

The researchers suggested that, like today’s treatment for heart disease, Alzheimer’s dementia treatment will more than likely require a multi-faceted “cocktail” approach involving medications, drugs and lifestyle changes.  “The message is that conditions like dementia are not immutable and are substantially modifiable by the environment,” said Lon Schneider, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and a co-author of the Lancet report.

“Today’s findings are extremely hopeful,” said Maria Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “At an individual level, many people have the potential to reduce their risk of cognitive decline, and perhaps dementia, through simple, healthful behavior changes. At a public health level, interventions based on this evidence could be extremely powerful in managing the global human and economic costs of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”


The Lancet report offers a road map to help younger people begin to create a dent in lowering the worldwide incidence of the disease. Consider that If younger adults strive to modify all 9 risk factors, it is estimated that the overall reduction of Alzheimer’s dementia, worldwide, could be as high as 35%, according to Schneider.  “Compare that to how we’re developing drugs to treat dementia. Dementia is not a condition that’s ever going to be such that a single drug can be considered a cure for the illness.” Lifestyle modification is inexpensive, he said, adding that a 35 percent reduction of risk is “far larger than anything you can ever expect for drugs.”

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