Rural life may double the risk of Alzheimer’s

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Being brought up in the countryside could double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new British research.

It shows rural living appears to be linked to the brain-wasting disease and that people raised in the country – rather than moving there later in life – face the greatest dangers. The reasons why remain a mystery, but the researchers who came up with the findings now plan to investigate the cause.

Dr Tom Russ, from the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It could be to do with access to healthcare, exposure to some unknown substance, socio-economic factors, or a number of other factors.”

Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 820,000 people in Britain and the number is expected to more than double over 40 years as the elderly population increases.

One of the main symptoms is loss of short-term memory. Although sufferers may recall things that happened decades ago, they struggle to remember events of the past few days. Other signs include lack of concentration, confusion and a tendency to wander aimlessly.

In the final stages, patients often lose the ability to move, speak or even swallow.

Previous studies have looked at how disease rates vary between urban and rural areas, but the results were inconclusive due to different definitions of city and country life.

To get a clearer picture, researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Medical Research Council and University College London pooled the results of dozens of studies from all over the world going back several decades, a process known as a meta-analysis. This is designed to give a better overall indication of the risks and benefits of lifestyle and its influence on Alzheimer’s disease.

Their results, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, showed that being born and brought up in the country more than doubled the risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life. In a report on their findings, they said: “Any attempts at prevention will need to begin sufficiently early in life.”