Study Identifies Modifiable Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

An elderly woman drinks coffee at her window

Preventable risk factors may be the cause of Alzheimer’s in as many as two thirds of cases, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of Neurology, Neuroscience, and Neurosurgery. The study did not find that any single risk factor causes Alzheimer’s. Rather, the degenerative disease results from the complex interaction of lifestyle, developmental history, and biology.

Understanding Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s

Researchers analyzed data from a total of 323 studies published between 1968 and 2014. These studies followed more than 5,000 people and addressed 93 Alzheimer’s risk factors.

A pooled analysis was used to grade the strength of each individual risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that cholesterol-lowering statins, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogen supplementation, and blood pressure drugs may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. Coffee, folate (commonly found in prenatal vitamins), and vitamins C and E also lowered the risk.

The most significant risk factors researchers identified for Alzheimer’s were:

  • A body mass index (BMI) significantly higher or lower than the recommended mid-life range of 18.5 to 24.9
  • Type 2 diabetes (among Asians)
  • Narrowing of the carotid arteries
  • Low and high blood pressure
  • Frailty
  • Low educational achievement
  • Depression
  • High levels of homocysteine (an amino acid) in the blood

A high BMI in later life, smoking (except among Asians), light or moderate drinking, and keeping one’s brain active appeared to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Because smoking is associated with a host of other health problems, researchers do not advise using it as an Alzheimer’s prevention strategy. Some medical conditions—including heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and metabolic syndrome—were associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Nearly two thirds of those with the disease are women, and only 45% of people with Alzheimer’s or their caregivers say they were told about the diagnosis.


  1. 2015 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. (2015). Retrieved from
  2. Body mass index (BMI) for adults. (2014, March 12). Retrieved from
  3. Xu, W., Tan, L., Wang, H., Jiang, T., Tan, M., Tan, L.,Yu, J. (2015). Meta-analysis of modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2015-310548

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  • Leave a Comment
  • shep

    August 27th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    Well, so many of these are modifiable and within your grasp to make a change… I sure do hope that more physicians see this and start to make these kinds of recommendations to their patients.

  • Martin

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    People, or some, won’t want to hear this because it puts the responsibility on them to change their lifestyle and they would rather make all of those kinds of things happen just by taking a pill

  • Cassandra J

    August 29th, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    I do think that there are tons of things that we can do to lower our chances of developing certain diseases, but I also understand that some things are just genetically dictated and there is little that we can do to avoid them.
    Now I am an advocate of staying in the best possible shape and eating right, but with the understanding that sometimes you still do everything right and you are still dealt a poor hand in the game of life and health.

  • jillaina

    August 30th, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    While there are these things that we can do to work on prevention, we also have to understand that for many of us no matter what we do this could still become our reality.
    There are risk factors for some of us, mainly family history, that nothing that you can do on your own could help to prevent.
    The good thing is that now we do have some things that we can work on as well as many genetic studies which could help us understand perhaps earlier than before if this is going to be something that we may have to deal with in the future.

  • Taylor

    August 31st, 2015 at 3:51 AM

    If this is the case with Alzheimer’s then there could be other diseases with things that we could do to slow the progression that we haven’t yet learned. That could be quite encouraging

  • barry o

    August 31st, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    There is not anything that this shows except that there has to be a balance. Not too heavy, not too fat. Not high blood pressure but not low blood pressure either. Moderation looks like it is the key to living the healthiest life. Moderation and balance

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