Too much TV as a young adult, poor grades in school as a child and loneliness in older adulthood may pave the way to Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, a flurry of new investigations has found.
The focus on nonbiologic risk factors -- including those linked to childhood -- are areas of growing concern as the number of people with Alzheimer's has already breached the 5 million mark and continues to climb.
New data about too much time devoted to television viewing, mediocre grades and loneliness are emerging as potential Alzheimer's risk factors, investigations worldwide have found.
"When it comes to the brain, it has always been a matter of use it or lose it," said Mary Ann Malack-Ragona, executive director of the Alzheimer's Resource Center in Bay Shore.
"I know that every good parent is trying to push their children to get ahead. I know I certainly did," said Malack-Ragona, who thinks loneliness in older age is a greater risk factor for the mind-robbing condition.
"Here on Long Island, it's hard for me to believe that a lot of young people are sitting around watching TV for four or more hours a day," she said.
But a team of California researchers compiled 25 years worth of data involving 3,200 black and white participants, ages 18 to 30 when the study started. By middle age, researchers found that at least four hours spent daily watching television had affected brain health, the investigators said.
When the test subjects were given cognitive function examinations, which tested memory, recall and other simple skills, those who had logged the most time in front of the tube performed poorest on the tests.
The researchers, Tina Hoang of the Northern California Institute of Research and Education in San Francisco and Kristine Yaffe of the University of California at San Francisco, also found that too much TV watching correlated with a sedentary lifestyle that apparently was lifelong.
"Sedentary behaviors, like TV viewing, could be especially relevant for future generations of adults due to the growing use of screen-based technologies," Hoang said.
Out of Sweden have come two analyses that conflate poor grades, mediocre performance in school and the level of work complexity as an adult with an elevated risk of dementia as an adult.
Examining the cognitive fate of more than 7,700 people, Serhiy Dekhtyar of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, found that among the 950 who developed dementia, the risk was highest among those who had the lowest grades.
For example, those who had the lowest grades in school at age 10 had the highest risk of dementia by old age and complexity of work during younger adult years did not modify the risk, researchers found.
However, a separate Swedish analysis found that women who had an occupation with high complexity that required negotiating, instructing, and supervising were 60 percent less likely to develop dementia compared with those with less demanding jobs.
Loneliness is another lifestyle risk factor, which Malack-Ragona sees as a growing problem on Long Island. Too many people as they age, she said, live cloistered lives and fare worse than their counterparts with more social contacts when Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed.
Dr. Nancy Donovan of Harvard Medical School examined data from more than 8,300 adults 65 and older and found that loneliness is associated with increased cognitive decline.