How our lifestyle protects against dementia despite genetic risk

How our lifestyle protects against dementia despite genetic risk

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Effects of lifestyle on frontotemporal dementia

A physically and mentally active lifestyle seems to protect against frontotemporal dementia, even in people whose genetic profile makes the development of the disease practically inevitable.

A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco Memory and Aging Center found that mental and physical activity appears to protect against frontotemporal dementia (FTD) even when there is a genetic risk.

In the case of genetic predisposition, lifestyle can still protect

Even if people with a genetic predisposition to frontotemporal dementia, it seems possible for those affected to take certain measures to slow the progression of the disease and increase the likelihood of a long and healthy life.

Exercise and cognitive fitness can slow Alzheimer's

The results of the study coincide with the realization that exercise and cognitive fitness are good ways to prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer's. It is the first study to show that the same behaviors can also benefit people with frontotemporal dementia caused by a pronounced form of brain degeneration.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that can interfere with personality, decision-making, language, and movement skills. The disease typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 65. Frontotemporal dementia is the most common form of dementia in people under 65 years of age, and the disease typically leads to rapid cognitive and physical decline and death in less than ten years.

There is often a genetic risk

About 40 percent of people with frontotemporal dementia have a history of the disease in the family. Researchers have identified specific dominant genetic mutations that drive the development of the disease in about half of these cases. But even in these people, the disease can have very different courses and degrees of severity.

Some people are just more resilient

“There is incredible variability in frontotemporal dementia, even in people with the same genetic mutations that drive their disease. Some people are just more resilient than others, for reasons we don't yet understand, reports Dr. Kaitlin Casaletto from the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences in a press release.

Do our daily activities affect risk?

The hypothesis was that the activities that people do every day of their lives can contribute to very different courses, including when the disease develops and how it progresses.

105 people were examined

The researchers therefore investigated how lifestyle differences affect the progression of frontotemporal dementia in 105 people with dominant, disease-causing gene mutations.

Large differences could be observed

Already one to two years after the start of the current study, the researchers observed significant differences in the speed and severity of frontotemporal dementia between the most and the least mentally and physically active people in the study.

Highest activity slowed functional degradation significantly

In particular, the researchers found that functional breakdown was 55 percent slower in the 25 percent of the most active participants than in the least active 5 percent.

Active people achieved better test results

Even among those whose brain scans showed signs of atrophy, the most mentally and physically active participants in cognitive tests performed twice as well as the least active.

Active lifestyle can slow the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia

These results suggest that an active lifestyle can slow the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia by providing some form of cognitive resistance to the effects of brain degeneration.

More research is needed

Further research should make a more detailed and objective assessment of participants' physical and mental activity. Clinical studies that explore the level of cognitive and physical activity in people with mutations for frontotemporal dementia are needed to prove that lifestyle changes can affect the course of the disease. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Nicholas Weiler: Lifestyle Choices Could Slow Familial Frontotemporal Dementia, University of California San Francisco (Published January 7, 2020), UCSF

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