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After decades of hope and hype, dementia research, including into Alzheimer’s disease, seems as far away from offering a cure as it’s ever been.

Cases of this cognitive impairment continue to increase along with the aging global population. A recent FDA-approved anti-Alzheimer’s drug — Aduhelm — has not lived up to promises. And a new medication, Leqembi, attracted skeptical reviews.

Meanwhile, even what experts thought they knew about Alzheimer’s pathology is under suspicion following 2022 ­reports of fraudulent past ­research.

55 million

Number of people worldwide living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, as of 2022, according to the World Health Organization. Nearly 10 million people are diagnosed with dementia annually. And one in 10 Americans over 65 lives with dementia.

Still, recent findings on reducing the risks of dementia are optimistic — and many of the strategies involve lifestyle choices. “Living a fit and healthy lifestyle is your best protection against get­ting Alzheimer’s,” says trailblazing dementia researcher Alison Goate, DPhil.

The best preventive measures remain fundamental: Eat well, watch your blood pressure for stroke risk, get enough sleep, move your body, and exercise your brain.

The latest research has added some other items to this list. While many measures logically revolve around the importance of social connection, others may be surprising.

1. Protect Your Vision

A study of 16,690 adults age 50-plus published in JAMA Neurology in 2022 suggests that eyesight impairment could be a key, modifiable factor. An estimated 1.8 percent (more than 100,000 people) of all U.S. dementia cases “could potentially have been prevented through healthy vision,” study authors write.

And a 2021 University of Washington study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that participants who underwent cataract surgery lowered their risk of dementia by 29 percent compared with those who avoided the procedure. (See “The Cognitive Benefits of Cataract Surgery” for more.)

2. Maintain Your Hearing

The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care ranks hearing loss as a top concern in its 2020 report. A 2019 study in JAMA Otolaryngology reviewed the cognitive effects of hearing loss on 6,451 older adults and concluded that every 10-decibel reduction in hearing resulted in reduced cognition. The Lancet’s report encourages the use of hearing aids as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of associated dementia.

As of October 2022, hearing aids are available over the counter in the United States.

3. Prevent Head Injuries

The 2020 Lancet report warns that concussions and traumatic brain injuries increase dementia risk. Research uncovering the brain’s neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to grow and adapt throughout our lives — has led to progressive therapies for treatment. (For more on treating head injuries, see “How to Treat Postconcussion Syndrome.”)

4. Limit Alcohol Use

It’s long been known that heavy drinking is associated with cognitive impairment and dementia. The Lancet report states, “Decreasing harmful alcohol drinking could potentially reduce young-onset and later-life dementia.”

5. Breathe Well

Air pollution — including smoking — is another new addition to the Lancet list. “Reduce exposure to air pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke,” the authors advise. “Stopping smoking, even in later life, ameliorates this risk.” (For more, see “Can Air Pollution Affect Your IQ?“)

Learn more about dementia and Alzheimer’s and how research is discovering the lifestyle factors that may be key to prevention.

This article originally appeared as “Research: More Factors for Reducing Dementia Risk” in the March 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Michael Dregni

Michael Dregni is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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