A host of studies presented at the 8th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders suggest a stronger connection between lifestyle choices, especially those that contribute to cardiovascular disease, and the development of Alzheimer's.
"What is most striking is the volume of Alzheimer's risk factor research being presented this week as compared to that of just two years ago when the last international conference on Alzheimer's disease convened in Washington, D.C.," said William Thies, Ph.D., vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer's Association.
The broad collection of epidemiological studies reflects a range of lifestyle elements including diet and nutrition, cholesterol levels, body weight, exercise, blood pressure and hypertension, as well as intellectual stimulation and social contact, all of which may have a role in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer's.
Of particular note is the mounting evidence that the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease, namely high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, may also play a role in Alzheimer's disease.
"These studies are further evidence that knowing and managing your numbers – your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, as well as your body weight — contribute to healthier aging and may decrease your risk for Alzheimer's," said Thies. "Even if they do not ultimately decrease your risk of Alzheimer's disease, they will contribute to the best outcome of the later parts of your life.
"Furthermore," he said, "the studies on exercise, which helps maintain blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well as body weight, are impressive."
Thies explained that the increased interest in identifying risk factors for Alzheimer's disease is in large part due to the fairly recent realization that environmental factors play a role in Alzheimer's disease. However, the challenge for Alzheimer's researchers is in collecting, tracking and analyzing behavioral data going back 10, 20 or 30 years.
"Alzheimer's may start as much as 20 to 30 years before symptoms appear," explains Thies. "It's difficult to trace environmental influences back 30 years. Medical information such as blood pressure, for example, is more readily available, but otherwise it's hard to assemble.
"While more research is necessary, especially in the form of prevention trials, we're seeing the strongest evidence yet that there is a relationship between healthy aging and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's," said Thies. "Healthy aging is a process that should begin sooner rather than later in life in order to remain healthy of body and mind for as long as possible."