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Reducing frailty in older consumers may reduce dementia risk, study finds

Experts say adopting healthy habits benefits consumers’ long-term cognitive health

Senior man holding cane
Photo (c) NuriaE - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter explored how older consumers may protect their cognitive function long-term. According to their findings, reducing frailty in older consumers and promoting a healthier lifestyle may reduce the risk of dementia

“We’re seeing increasing evidence that taking meaningful action during life can significantly reduce dementia risk,” said researcher Dr. David Ward. “Our research is a major step forward in understanding how reducing frailty could help to dramatically improve a person’s chances of avoiding dementia, regardless of their genetic predisposition to the condition. This is exciting because we believe that some of the underlying causes of frailty are in themselves preventable. In our study, this looked to be possible partly through engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors.” 

Staying active benefits older consumers’ cognitive function

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 196,000 adults over the age of 60 enrolled in the U.K. Biobank. They evaluated the participants’ lifestyle habits and medical records and assessed their genetic risk factors for dementia and frailty. The team followed the participants over the course of a decade to determine their long-term health outcomes. 

The researchers learned that frailty and dementia were closely linked; the higher the participants scored on the frailty risk scale, the more likely they were to also develop dementia. Participants with the highest degrees of frailty were found to be nearly three times as likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest frailty scores. 

The study also showed that being frail increased dementia risks even more than genetics, as participants who were genetically predisposed to dementia but were physically strong and fit were less likely to develop cognitive difficulties. Those with high frailty scores and strong genetic risks were the most likely to be diagnosed with dementia. 

“These findings have extremely positive implications, showing it’s not the case that dementia is inevitable, even if you’re at a high genetic risk,” said researcher Dr. Janice Ranson. “We can take meaningful action to reduce our risk; tackling frailty could be an effective strategy to maintaining brain health, as well as helping people stay mobile and independent for longer in later life.” 

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings are used to help promote more active, healthy lifestyles among older consumers – especially those who may have a higher genetic risk of developing dementia. 

“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,” said researcher Dr. Kenneth Rockwood. “Our 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. That’s an incredibly exciting prospect that we must urgently explore to potentially benefit the growing number of people worldwide affected by dementia.” 

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