Living longer is a goal many of us have. But the longer we live, the more likely we are to develop diseases associated with old age, like Alzheimer’s dementia. If we are taking action to live longer, is there a way to retain our precious memories during these extra years?
Klodian Dhana and colleagues wanted to know if a healthy lifestyle can both increase your lifespan and help you spend fewer of those extra years with Alzheimer’s. As a part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, the researchers assessed the lifestyles of over 2,000 elderly participants’ considering five factors: diet, mental activities, physical activities, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
Based on their answers to yearly questionnaires, each participant had a total “healthy lifestyle score” from 0 to 5, with five being the healthiest. Participants then had regular neurological tests to determine Alzheimer’s diagnoses. The findings are presented by gender because women have, on average, a higher life expectancy and increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
In the figure above, researchers found that men and women who led a healthy lifestyle not only had a longer life expectancy, but they also spent a greater percentage of their remaining years without Alzheimer’s. Participants with the lowest lifestyle scores (purple line) spent the largest proportion of their final years with Alzheimer’s. People with higher scores (orange and pink lines) lived longer and spent less time with Alzheimer’s.
For example, a 65-year-old woman with the lowest lifestyle scores of 0 or 1 has a life expectancy of 21.1 years. On average, she will spend 4.1 of those years with Alzheimer’s. A 65-year-old woman with the highest lifestyle scores of 4 or 5 has a higher life expectancy of 24.2 years and, on average, will spend 2.6 of them with Alzheimer’s.
The findings suggest that lengthening your life expectancy through a healthy lifestyle is accompanied by avoiding dementia longer. Eating well, enjoying active friendships, and exercising might decrease the burden of Alzheimer’s by helping the aging American population maintain clear thinking as they age.
Databyte via Klodian Dhana, Oscar H. Franco, Ethan M. Ritz, et al. Healthy lifestyle and life expectancy with and without Alzheimer’s dementia: population based cohort study. The BMJ, 2022.