How ‘Simple 7’ Lifestyle Habits Can Lower Women’s Dementia Risk

How ‘Simple 7’ Lifestyle Habits Can Lower Women’s Dementia Risk

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Experts say exercise is one way women can reduce their risk of dementia. McKinsey Jordan/Stocksy
  • Women make up about two-thirds of the people who have dementia.
  • Researchers say women can lower their risk for the disease by adopting 7 healthy lifestyle habits recommended by the American Heart Association.
  • The daily habits include being active, having a balanced diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Women who follow seven healthy habits might lower their risk of developing dementia, according to new research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting this week.

In their study, researchers followed 13,720 women for 20 years to analyze their risk of developing dementia. They examined Medicare claims at the end of the study to determine who received a diagnosis.

The women received a score for seven health factors, with 0 corresponding to “poor” and 7 as “excellent.” The average score at the beginning of the study was 4.3. At the 10-year follow-up, it was 4.2.

At the 20-year follow-up, 1,771 women had been diagnosed with dementia.

After adjusting for factors such as age and education, the researchers found that for every increase of one point in overall score, the participant’s risk of dementia decreased by 6%.

One limitation of the study is that researchers did not receive information that allowed them to see how changes in healthy habits, such as quitting smoking, influenced the risk of dementia.

The findings also have not been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.

The researchers used the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” lifestyle habits for their study.

Those seven factors are:

“The good news is, this isn’t an all-or-nothing situation,” said Dr. Joel Salinas, a behavioral neurologist and researcher at NYU Langone Health and chief medical officer at Isaac Health in New York.

“You don’t need to be the healthiest person. Even if people have a good score in one or two areas, they are receiving some benefit. Any improvements incrementally improve your long-term health,” he told Healthline.

“If you change your habits, you will receive some health benefits. The earlier you make those changes,” Salinas added. “The longer you keep the new habits, the better. The intent is to find an easy way to keep track of your health.”

“Dementia is an overall decline in cognitive ability, usually impacting short-term memory (learning/recall new information) and another cognitive ability (or more), such as decline in executive skills (organization, decision making) or language, or visual-spatial skills,” says Karen Miller PhD, a neuropsychologist and geropsychologist as well as the senior director of the Brain Wellness and Lifestyle Programs at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in California.

“In dementia, these declines typically impact one’s ability to be completely independent (i.e., the person may have difficulty managing finances or medications, difficulty/impairment in driving, etc.),” she told Healthline.

Women make up about two-thirds of people with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2021 report.

One reason is that women live longer than men and dementia typically appears after age 80. Other possible explanations, according to Cognitive Vitality, a program of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, include:

  • Higher education is associated with lower rates of dementia. Many older women today were not afforded the same educational opportunities as men.
  • Dementia is linked to depression, and more women have depression than men
  • People who exercise are less likely to develop dementia and women exercise less than men

When women develop dementia, they decline faster than men do. Therefore, they can have a more severe illness.

Dementia occurs when neurons in the brain stop working or interacting with other brain cells, according to the National Institute of Aging.

Everyone loses some neurons as they age, but people with dementia have a more significant loss.

While many people over 85 have dementia, it is not considered a normal part of aging.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but it is not the only one.

A few other types of dementia include the following:

Some people can have a combination of two or more types of dementia.

Signs and symptoms of dementia include:

  • Experiencing memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion.
  • Difficulty speaking, understanding, and expressing thoughts, or reading and writing.
  • Wandering and getting lost in a familiar neighborhood.
  • Trouble handling money responsibly and paying bills.
  • Repeating questions.
  • Using unusual words to refer to everyday objects.
  • Taking longer to complete routine daily tasks.
  • Losing interest in normal daily activities or events.
  • Hallucinating or experiencing delusions or paranoia.
  • Acting impulsively.
  • Losing balance and problems with movement

It is important to note when symptoms are worsening, experts say.

“When people start noticing these symptoms, in themselves or a loved one, it may be time to see a doctor. The same is true for new changes, new symptoms, or a worsening of previous symptoms. There are some treatments – that can’t cure or reverse the damage. Still, they can possibly slow the progression of the disease, such as aducanumab and lecanemab,” Salinas said. “New treatments are another reason to see a doctor.”