Monday 26 September 2016

Children's school grades aged 10 could predict risk of dementia

A raft of studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found that lifestyle choices were critically important for preventing dementia.

Sarah Knapton

Published 21/07/2015 | 14:05

Lifestyle choices were critically important for preventing dementia.
Lifestyle choices were critically important for preventing dementia.

Children with low school grades at the age of 10 are more likely to develop dementia later in life, scientists have found for the first time.

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Youngsters who struggled in school were far more likely to suffer dementia as pensioners than average children, while high achievers were much less likely to develop the condition.

Swedish researchers also found that having a mentally demanding job appeared to protect people against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

They believe that a good education and stimulating work allows the brain to build up a ‘cognitive reserve’ which protects against the ravages of mental decline.

In contrast couch potatoes who dull their brains with too much television and do not exercise sufficiently as young adults were more than twice as likely to suffer from dementia. Likewise loneliness raised the risk, suggesting that socialising is vital for keeping a fully engaged mind.

A raft of studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found that lifestyle choices were critically important for preventing dementia.

“It’s never too late or too early to start,” said Dr Heather Snyder, Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Evidence is growing that there are lifestyle habits that you can adopt to maintain or potentially improve young health, including your brain health as you age.

“Often the same healthful practices that are good for your overall health are good for your brain.

“Getting formal education, being physically and social active can help keep you brain and body health and potentially reduce your risk of cognitive decline.”

There are around 850,000 people currently suffering from dementia in Britain and the figure is expected to rise to one million by 2025.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden followed more than 7,500 over 65s for more than 20 years, monitoring lifestyle factors. They also checked their school grades aged 10 years old.

Those who had been in the lowest quintile of school performance were 21 per cent more likely to develop dementia. Those who got top scores at school then went on to complex jobs involving data and numbers saw their dementia risk fall by 39 per cent.

“It appears that baseline cognitive ability, even at age 10, may provide the foundation for successful cognitive ageing much later in life,” said Dr Serhiy Dekhtyar, of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute.

In a separate study, experts at the University of California found that watching too much television and taking too little exercise in early adulthood more than doubles their risk of dementia.

Researchers looked at 3,200 people between 18 and 30 years old. Those who spent more than four hours a day watching television and less than 150 minutes a week exercising were 2.4 times more likely to suffer dementia than the most active volunteers.

Likewise at study of 8,300 over 65s by Harvard University found that the loneliest people suffered much faster cognitive decline than those with the most friends, a 20 per cent acceleration over 12 years.

Charities said the results proved that keeping the brain stimulated through socialising, education and complex tasks could prevent dementia.

“These studies add to a growing body of evidence which shows the number of years of education we receive, and the complexity of our jobs, may help our brains by building up a ‘cognitive reserve’ to help us withstand damage,” said Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at the Alzheimer’s Society.

“But people who haven't had a long education shouldn’t be unduly worried by this study. Research shows there are plenty of positive things you can start doing now to keep your brain healthy into older age, including taking regular exercise, stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet and keeping high blood pressure under control.”

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: “We know that in the majority of cases, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are caused by complex mix of age, genetic and lifestyle risk factors. There is growing evidence that our health and lifestyle choices throughout life, not just in older age, could have implications for brain health as we reach later life.

“Teasing apart the interplay of risk factors for dementia, including those we may be able to modify, can help to shape public health strategies to improve the long-term health and quality of life of the population.”

10 steps to preventing dementia

1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body.

2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline.

4. Follow your heart. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke – obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – negatively impact your cognitive health.

5. Heads up Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls and avoid brain injuries.

6. Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit

7. Catch some Zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

8. Destress Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline.

9. Buddy up. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you.

10. Stump yourself. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games that make you think strategically.

Telegraph.co.uk

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