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Drinking and smoking can age your brain by up to 20 years more than those who abstain

A team of scientists analyzed data from 22,117 people aged 18 to 89.

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alcoholism, alcohol addiction and people concept - male alcoholic drinking beer and smoking cigarette at night
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By Jim Leffman via SWNS

Drinking, smoking and having diabetes can age your brain by up to 20 years more than healthy people, a new study reveals.

Scientists believe that lifestyle could be more important than age when it comes to developing dementia.

They looked at eight different risk factors, also including substance abuse, hearing loss, brain injury and depression, concluding that having any one can add three years to your cognitive age.

People with no dementia risk factors can have similar brain health as people who are 10 to 20 years younger than those with riskier lifestyles.

The study is one of the first to look at lifestyle risk factors for dementia across the entire lifespan.

The researchers found that even at 18, lifestyle could begin to set the path to dementia later on.

But the good news is that the risks are extremely modifiable, allowing people to keep their brains young.

Dr. Annalise LaPlume, postdoctoral Fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) in Toronto and the study’s lead author said: "Our results suggest lifestyle factors may be more important than age in determining someone’s level of cognitive functioning.

"This is great news since there’s a lot you can do to modify these factors, such as managing diabetes, addressing hearing loss, and getting the support you need to quit smoking.

"This is crucial as it means risk factors can and should be addressed as early as possible.

“While most studies of this nature look at mid- and older-adulthood, we also included data from participants as young as 18, and we found that risk factors had a negative impact on cognitive performance across all ages.

“All in all, our research shows that you have the power to decrease your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

“Start addressing any risk factors you have now, whether you’re 18 or 90, and you’ll support your brain health to help yourself age fearlessly.”

Glowing brain sketch on dark background. Brainstorm concept
(Photo by Golden Dayz via Shutterstock)

The team analyzed data from 22,117 people aged 18 to 89 who completed the Cogniciti Brain Health Assessment, developed by Baycrest.

The researchers looked at participants’ performance on memory and attention tests, and how this was impacted by eight modifiable risk factors for dementia: low education (less than a high school diploma), hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, alcohol or substance abuse, hypertension, smoking (currently or in the past four years), diabetes and depression.

Each factor led to a decrease in cognitive performance by as much as three years of aging, with each additional factor contributing the same amount of decline.

The effects of the risk factors increased with age, as did the number of risk factors people had.

The researchers say they hope to look further into the differences between normal agers and “super agers” – people who have the identical cognitive performance to those several decades younger than them.

The study was published in the journal Alzheimer s & Dementia Diagnosis Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

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