Dementia tied to 7 "modifiable" risk factors: What are they?

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(CBS/AP) The leading form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease remains as incurable as it is deadly. But that doesn't mean nothing can be done about a mind-robbing ailment that affects 35 million people around the world.

New research suggests that millions of cases could be avoided simply by making simple changes in lifestyle.

PICTURES: Alzheimer's disease: 7 things that raise your risk

The research - presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Paris - offers more than the usual pep talk about healthy living. It showed that seven conditions or behaviors account for up to half of all cases of Alzheimer's.

"Prevention is a particularly attractive option given the state of therapy, said William Thies, the association's chief scientific officer. "That's why there's so much interest in it."

The study - led by Deborah Barnes, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco - used a mathematical model to estimate the impact of smoking and other "modifiable" risk factors for dementia. Results of the study were published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Reducing the risk factors by 25 percent could mean 3 million fewer cases of Alzheimer's worldwide, including half a million in the U.S., researchers estimated. Reducing risk factors by 10 percent would translate to 1.1 million fewer cases.

"It gives us a little bit of hope about things we could do now about the epidemic that is coming our way," Barnes said.

Alzheimer's cases are expected to triple by 2050, to around 106 million worldwide.

"We can do something about this," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, a Mayo Clinic dementia specialist who had no role in the study. A common misconception is that you're "dealt a deck of cards at birth," he said, but "people need not just sit back and watch this unfold." 

The Alzheimer's Association has more on Alzheimer's disease.

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