Nearly Half of Older Americans Could Cut Their Alzheimer’s Risk

June 13, 2022

Almost half of American men and women aged 45 and over could cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by taking steps to curb lifestyle and health factors that put them at higher risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The agency notes that a growing body of evidence has identified potentially modifiable risk factors that put older adults at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. They include not getting enough aerobic exercise, smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and being obese. Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s include having high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or hearing loss, conditions that can often be effectively treated. 

For the analysis, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), researchers looked at 162,000 Americans aged 45 and older who did not have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. All were part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which collects detailed health and lifestyle information annually from a nationally representative sample of men and women across the country.  

In this group, the two most common risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease were high blood pressure and lack of physical activity, affecting almost 50 percent of the adults surveyed. In addition, 35 percent were obese, 19 percent had diabetes, 18 percent had depression, 15 percent were smokers, 11 percent had hearing loss, and 10 percent were binge drinkers, which the CDC defines as consuming four or more drinks on an occasion for a woman or five or more drinks on an occasion for a man. 

More than one in 10 of the group reported that they felt that had memory issues, which can often be an indicator of more serious memory problems or possible future Alzheimer’s disease. Subjective memory complaints increased the more risk factors someone had. Fewer than 4 percent of adults who did not have modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s reported having memory issues, compared to 25 percent of adults who had four or more risk factors. Memory complaints were particularly common in those with depression (29 percent) or hearing loss (25 percent). 

Consistent with other studies that look at racial and ethnic disparities in health, certain demographic groups were more likely to have modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including American Indians and Alaska Native, African Americans, and Hispanics. 

“The findings in this report highlight opportunities to accelerate action, particularly among specific populations at high risk,” the authors write. “Many evidence-based activities that support healthy aging and prevention and control of various chronic conditions, such as managing hypertension and promoting physical activity, can also serve as potential strategies to achieve this goal.” 

“For example,” the authors continue, “in addition to helping patients discuss concerns about memory loss, health care professionals should also screen patients for modifiable risk factors, counsel patients with risk factors, and refer them to effective programs and interventions where recommended.” 

While genetics, advancing age and other factors account for most cases of Alzheimer’s disease, earlier research indicates that up to 40 percent of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia could be significantly delayed, if not prevented, by targeting modifiable risk factors throughout life. The findings underscore the potential importance of lifestyle factors in helping to keep memory sharp into old age. 

Among the recommendations: 

  • Try to keep systolic blood pressure (the top number) to 130 or less from age 40 and beyond. 
  • If you are having hearing trouble, make sure to get a hearing aid, and protect the ears from loud noises that can cause permanent damage. 
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, keep it moderate — no more than one to two drinks a day. 
  • If you smoke, quit. Quitting smoking at any age has benefits that begin immediately. 
  • Get regular physical activity throughout life. Starting exercising at any age has benefits that begin immediately.  
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight, which can lower the risk of diabetes, hypertension and other chronic ailments tied to Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • Stay active with daily activities and try as much as possible to stay socially connected.  

It is never too late to improve on any of these recommendations!

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.  

Source: John D. Omura, MD; Lisa C. McGuire, PhD; Roshni Patel, MPH; et al: “Modifiable Risk Factors for Alzheimer Disease and Related Dementias Among Adults Aged ≥45 Years — United States, 2019. MMWR May 20, 2022 


Alzheimer's Articles