Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms associated with brain damage, such as memory loss and lapses in concentration. There is currently no known way to prevent dementia, but advances in research have found certain factors may increase your risk, hinting at the possibility of prevention. A new study makes an important contribution to the existing body of literature, suggesting height may have a bearing on dementia risk, an association that may include genetic and environmental factors.
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Discussing the primary objective of the study, lead author Terese Sara Høj Jørgensen, Assistant Professor at the Section of Social Medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, said: “We wanted to see if body height in young men is associated with diagnosis of dementia, while exploring whether intelligence test scores, educational level, and underlying environmental and genetic factors shared by brothers explain the relationship.
To put this into practice, Jørgensen and her colleagues analysed data on 666,333 Danish men born between 1939 and 1959, including 70,608 brothers and 7,388 twins, from Danish national registries.
They found a total of 10,599 men who developed dementia later in life.
Their adjusted analysis of this group showed that there was about a 10 percent reduction in the risk of developing dementia for about every six centimetres of height in individuals above the average height.
When the team took into account the potential role of intelligence or education, the unadjusted relationship between height and dementia risk was only slightly reduced.
They also found that the relationship between height and dementia also existed when they looked at brothers with different heights, suggesting that genetics and family characteristics alone do not explain why shorter men had a greater dementia risk.
This finding was consistent when they studied data concerning twins, although the results for this group were less certain.
“A key strength of our study is that it adjusted for the potential role of education and intelligence in young men’s dementia risk, both of which may build up cognitive reserve and make this group less vulnerable to developing dementia,” explains senior author Merete Osler, Professor at the Center for Clinical Research and Prevention, Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital, and at the University of Copenhagen.
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“Cognitive reserve” refers to the brain’s ability to improvise and solve problems that come up in everyday life.
According to Osler, adjusting for education and intelligence reduces the likelihood that the relationship between height and dementia is really explained by cognitive reserve.
“Together, our results point to an association between taller body height in young men and a lower risk of dementia diagnosis later in life, which persists even when adjusted for educational level and intelligence test scores,” Osler said.
She continues: “Our analysis of the data concerning brothers confirms these findings, and suggests the association may have common roots in early-life environmental exposures that are not related to family factors shared by brothers.”
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Osler also acknowledged one limitations of the study, however – the uncertainty as to whether these findings are generalisable to women, as previous studies on potential gender differences in the relationship between height and dementia are mostly inconclusive.
Other risk factors
According to the NHS, the latest research suggests that the following factors may also influence your risk:
- Hearing loss
- Untreated depression
- Loneliness or social isolation
- A sedentary lifestyle
“The research concluded that by modifying the risk factors we are able to change, our risk of dementia could be reduced by up to 30 percent,” reports the health site.
It also generally believed that what is good for your heart is good for your brain, so eating a heart-healthy diet may offer some protection against brain decline.
To this end, the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was created by researchers at Rush University in Chicago, to help prevent dementia and slow age-related loss of brain function.
It’s a combination of two diets already known to reduce risk of heart and circulatory disease:
- The Mediterranean diet (based on wholegrains, fish, pulses, fruits and vegetables)
- And the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet is designed to control blood pressure – a risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases and dementia. It’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, but with a greater emphasis on reducing your salt intake.
“Both diets are backed by lots of research showing they can help your heart health, and some evidence to suggest they can contribute to lower levels of mental decline,” according to the British Heart Foundation.
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