In a new study from Dalhousie University, researchers found reducing frailty in older adults could be an effective strategy to prevent dementia.
They found that frailty was a strong risk factor for dementia, even among people who are at high genetic risk for dementia, and that it might be modified through a healthy lifestyle.
In the study, the team used data from more than 196,000 adults aged over 60 in the UK Biobank.
Over the 10-year UK Biobank study period, dementia was detected via hospital admission records in 1,762 of the participants.
And these people were much more likely to have a high degree of frailty before their diagnosis compared with those who did not develop dementia.
The importance of preventing or reducing frailty was highlighted when the researchers examined the impact of genetic risk in people with different degrees of frailty.
Genetic risk factors exerted their expected effect on the risk of dementia in study participants who were healthy, but genes were progressively less important in study participants who were the frailest.
In those frail study participants, the risk of dementia was high regardless of their genes.
Even in those at the highest genetic risk of dementia, the researchers found that risk was lowest in people who were fit, and highest in people who were in poor health, which was measured as a high degree of frailty.
However, the combination of high genetic risk and high frailty was found to be particularly detrimental, with participants at six times greater risk of dementia than participants without either risk factor.
Compared with study participants with a low degree of frailty, the risk of dementia was more than 2.5 times higher (268%) among study participants who had a high degree of frailty.
The research identified pathways to reducing dementia risk. Study participants who reported more engagement in healthy lifestyle behaviors were less likely to develop dementia, partly because they had a lower degree of frailty.
The team says the risk of dementia reflects genetic, neuropathological, lifestyle, and general health factors that in turn give rise to a range of abnormalities in the brain.
This study is an important step forward on the role of frailty, which appears to have a unique and potentially modifiable pathway in influencing dementia risk.
If you care about dementia risk, please read studies about two health issues that may double dementia risk, and findings of how to use a healthy lifestyle to prevent dementia.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about drinking too much coffee linked to higher dementia risk, and results showing that lack of sleep in middle age may increase dementia risk.
The study is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. One author of the study is Dr. David Ward.
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