Two drinks a day hastens Alzheimer's
ALZHEIMER'S disease develops years earlier in heavy drinkers and smokers, and is linked to high cholesterol levels in middle age, research has shown.
The lifestyle links to Alzheimer's were revealed in two separate studies presented to neurologists in the United States.
One team looked at 938 people aged 60 and older who were diagnosed with possible or probable Alzheimer's disease.
Information was gathered from family members on the patients' drinking and smoking history. The study found that heavy drinkers – who by definition consumed more than two alcoholic drinks a day – developed Alzheimer's nearly five years earlier than non-heavy drinkers, on average.
Heavy smokers who got through at least 20 cigarettes a day developed the disease 2.3 years sooner than patients who smoked less or were non-smokers.
Participants with a particular mutant form of the gene ApoE showed symptoms of Alzheimer's three years earlier than those without the gene variant. Adding the risk factors together led to earlier onset of the disease.
Patients with all three developed Alzheimer's 8.5 years sooner than those with none. The 17 patients in the study with all three risk factors began to experience Alzheimer's at an average age of 68.5 years. A total of 374 participants who had none of the risk factors developed Alzheimer's at an average of 77.
A separate team of Finnish and US scientists found that those with high blood cholesterol in their early forties were more likely to develop the disease than those with low cholesterol.
The study involved 9,752 men and women in northern California who underwent health checks between 1964 and 1973 when they were between the ages of 40 and 45. Of these, 504 went on to develop Alzheimer's disease and 162 were diagnosed with vascular dementia, a related condition.
Dr Susanne Sorensen, the head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "It is important that people lead a healthy lifestyle to reduce their risk of developing dementia.
"This research adds to the weight of evidence on drinking and smoking habits and the risk of developing dementia.
"The best way to reduce your risk is to eat a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins and to exercise regularly," Dr Sorensen said.
"Not smoking, drinking only in moderation and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly throughout life are also important ways people can reduce their risk of dementia."
Up to 65,000 sufferers
BETWEEN 58,000 and 65,000 people in Scotland suffer from dementia – the majority of them Alzheimer's.
The disease is most common in older people, but can affect those in their forties or fifties or even younger.
All types of dementia damage and kill brain cells so that the brain does not work as well as it should. The exact causes are not yet known.
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