Risk Factors for Dementia – Expert’s Advice

risk factors for dementia

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It is a misconception that dementia is a natural part of aging. Instead, dementia is a symptom caused by damage that occurs in the brain. There are many risk factors for dementia. Some of these are risk factors that can be changed, while others cannot. Learn all about the risk factors for dementia and what you can do to help prevent it.

What is Dementia?

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms that affect your memory, thinking, and behavior that start to interfere with your everyday activities. It is known as a late-life disease since it usually develops in people generally above 65 years old. It is common for early signs of dementia to go unnoticed, and then they become more noticeable over time.

Currently, there is no cure for dementia. It is a progressive disease. There are, in fact, many types of dementia, and the most common ones are Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.

What Causes Dementia?

There could be several factors that lead to dementia. Therefore, understanding the risk factors of dementia and its causes may help you lower your own risk of developing dementia.

One of the major causes of dementia is the death of brain cells and neurons. When this occurs, the connections are lost between them, and then proteins in the brain build plaques and tangles. The nerves begin to die, and brain tissue is lost, leading to dementia symptoms.

Trauma to the brain can also lead to dementia. This can be from head injuries, brain tumors, or stroke.

Deficiency of Vitamin B12, depression, drug and alcohol use can be risk factors for dementia. Some of these risks can be eliminated with lifestyle changes, while others cannot.

Find out all the risks to see how you can lower your risk of developing dementia.

Major Risk Factors For Dementia: Age, Genetic and Others

major risk factors for dementia

General health risk factors for life are aspects that increase your likelihood of developing a disease.

These can be related to genetic, lifestyle, and environmental risks. And when it comes to developing dementia, there are several known factors. Some of these drastically increase your chances of developing dementia, while others only slightly increase your risk of developing it.

The biggest risk factors for developing dementia are your age and genes, which cannot be changed. Since some risk factors cannot be changed, it becomes of utmost importance to avoid and eliminate secondary factors that could contribute to the development of dementia.

Let’s understand the major risk factors in detail. 

#1. Aging

One of the biggest risk factors of dementia is aging. However, it is important to note that aging is not a normal sign of dementia. But, as you get older, your risk of developing dementia increases.

The risk of developing dementia increases after every five years for at least 2% of aging individuals. And by the time individuals reach the age of 90, around 33% of people have dementia.

Age is one of the biggest risk factors because it takes a long time to develop. The damage to the brain starts slowly and then spreads over time as more of the brain is damaged. While the damage is occurring, you will often see no signs or symptoms, at least initially.

Age is an even greater risk factor because older individuals usually struggle with other health conditions that increase the risk. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Damaged blood vessels in the brain
  • Greater risk of strokes
  • Brains are not as active
  • Weaker immune system
  • Slower recovery from illness and injury

While age is a huge risk in dementia, younger people can still develop it too. It’s called young-onset dementia. This is when those under 65 years of age develop dementia.

#2. Genes

Two genes increase your risk of developing dementia. They are the ‘familial’ gene and the ‘risk’ gene.

Familial genes are rare, but they do cause about 33% of frontotemporal dementia cases. The familial gene will cause dementia if it is passed down from a parent to a child. If one parent has this gene, the child will have a 50% chance of inheriting it, which will cause them to develop dementia. They will start to see signs of dementia when they are around the age of 50 to 60.

Risk genes increase your chances of developing dementia, but they don’t guarantee that you will develop it. Risk genes are more common than familial genes. These increase your chance of developing dementia. Researchers have found more than 20 risk genes, and they have determined that it only slightly increases your chance of developing dementia.

Apolipoprotein E (APOE) is a risk gene that can make someone four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Even if you live with Apolipoprotein E, it still does not mean you will develop dementia; it just drastically increases your risk.

#3. Gender

Women tend to live longer lives than men, so it may be no surprise that more women than men live with dementia. The risk of developing dementia is the same, although more women live over the age of 80.

An additional risk factor that correlates with age is if women above 80 years have less cognitive reserve. It is because, in previous generations, they had fewer opportunities for higher education and work.

#4. Ethnicity

Some studies show that individuals from Black Africans, Black Caribbean, and Southern Asian ethnic groups are more likely to develop dementia than white ethnic groups. A recent study showed that those of Black ethnic groups actually are at the most significant risk.

One theory as to why this is is because these individuals are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of these are risk factors for dementia.

Researchers conclude that more studies need to be done to gain more evidence to see if ethnicity by itself is a risk factor for dementia.

#5. Cognitive Reserve

Cognitive reserve is an individual’s ability to cope with a disease that’s inside your brain. This cognitive reserve is built up over time as your brain stays active. The more of a reserve you have stored, the longer it will take for dementia to make noticeable changes to your brain and affect your day-to-day activities.

Three factors that contribute to a smaller cognitive reserve are:

1. Lower Education Level

Those who did not go to school for as long or left school early are at risk of having a smaller cognitive reserve. And those who stayed in school longer and continued to learn throughout their lives have more chances of having a cognitive reserve.

2. Easy job

During our working years, we may wish we had an easy job that did not test our memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and communication skills, but these all help build a larger cognitive reserve. Those with easier jobs that do not use skill sets much tend to have less of a reserve.

3. Isolation

If you spend most of your time alone and do not interact with others, studies show that this also contributes to a smaller reserve than those who socialize and interact with others.

Your cognitive reserve will start to build up when you are a child. It continues through early adulthood. And if you want to increase your cognitive reserve when you are older, you will want to find activities that mentally and socially keep you active.

#6. Hearing Loss

Dementia is more common in those who have hearing problems in their 40s to mid-60s. Researchers suggest this can cause dementia for the following reasons.

  • Individuals with hearing loss withdraw socially and start to isolate themselves. This can reduce the cognitive reserve that they have stored up.
  • When those who struggle to hear strain, it can make other mental processes not work as they should.
  • The type of dementia an individual is living with may affect your hearing.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Have annual hearing evaluations
  • Avoid frequent exposures to loud noises. Avoid listening to music at loud levels
  • Have your doctor check for ear wax build-ups
  • Use hearing aids if your doctor recommends them
  • Ensure your hearing aids fit properly

#7. Traumatic Brain Injuries

Individuals who experience severe or repeated head injuries are at increased risk of developing dementia. Also, a traumatic brain injury in youth can increase the risk of developing dementia. Athletes who play football, soccer, and hockey are at increased risk because of repeated head injuries.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Wear a helmet when playing sports as well as when you are skating and riding a bike.
  • Always wear a seatbelt.
  • Make changes to your home to help prevent falls when you age. This includes installing handrails and grab bars if needed.
  • Remove all tripping hazards.
  • Wear proper footwear in the winter to avoid slipping on the ice

#8. High Blood Pressure

Individuals living with hypertension between the ages of 45 and 64 are at a greater risk of developing dementia than those living with normal blood pressure.

High blood pressure affects the heart, arteries, blood circulations; and puts you at greater risk of developing vascular dementia.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Be physically active
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Reduce your amount of sodium and salt
  • Monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.
  • Manage your stress levels.
  • If your doctor has prescribed medication to help control your blood pressure, take it as directed.

#9. Diabetes

Those who are living with type 2 diabetes in their mid-life are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular disease.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Learn how to eat healthy / maintain a healthy diet
  • Talk with your doctor about a healthy glucose level for you.
  • Monitor glucose levels

#10. Depression

Those who live with depression during spans of their life are at an increased risk of developing dementia. This may be caused by the long-term effects that depression causes within the brain. And with how one thinks and copes throughout their life when they are living with depression.

Studies are still being done to determine if those who are treated with antidepressants lower back down the risk of developing dementia.

It is best to prevent depression from happening if possible.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, sadness, or are tired all the time, you could be suffering from depression. You will want to make an appointment to speak with your healthcare provider or mental health professionals to recommend treatment options.
  • Learn about depression.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle.
  • Document your thoughts and feelings in a journal or notebook.
  • Talk with close friends or family members about your feelings.
  • Follow the treatment plan recommended by your healthcare professional. Let them know if changes occur in your mood or behavior.

Risk Factors For Dementia: Lifestyle Factors and Environmental Risks

Risk Factors For Dementia: Lifestyle Factors and Environmental Risks

Many research studies show that our lifestyle choice may affect an individual’s risk for developing dementia.

Studies show that the risk of developing dementia is at its lowest for those that are in their 40s to 65 years who develop the following habits:

  • Mental, Physical, and social activity
  • Not smoking
  • Drinking in moderation
  • Healthy Diet

These lifestyle factors can increase your risk of dementia. Individuals who are doing at least 3 of these things are at the lowest risk of developing dementia. Maintaining one or two of these habits only reduces your risk by a small amount.

#1. Obesity/Lack of Physical Exercise

Those who are obese in their mid-life are at an increased risk of developing dementia.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • To help reduce your risk of developing dementia, aerobic or cardio is the most recommended exercise.
  • Try to add in 2 days a week of bone-strengthening activities
  • If you are at more of a risk of falling, try yoga.

#2. Unhealthy Diet

If your diet lacks healthy foods and is high in saturated fats, sugar, and salt, it may increase your risk of developing many illnesses, including dementia.

A poor diet can increase your risk for high blood pressure, which contributes to a higher risk of dementia.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat whole-grain cereals.
  • Eat fish
  • Avoid full-fat dairy
  • Limit the amount of red meat you consume.
  • Avoid eating too many processed meats like ham, sausage, and bacon.
  • Limit your salt intake to no more than one teaspoon a day.

#3. Smoking

There is strong evidence that smoking puts individuals at a higher risk of developing dementia than those who do not smoke and those who have quit smoking. Smoking causes damage to your heart, lungs, and blood circulation.

Harmful substances build up in the brain that causes inflammation and prevents the right amount of oxygen required to get to the nerve cells. This substance also increases your risk of having a stroke, which increases your likelihood of developing vascular dementia.

If you choose to quit smoking now, it will lower your risk of developing dementia; it is never too late to stop.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about quitting. They can direct you to help resources or recommend nicotine replacement therapies if needed to help you stop smoking.
  • Create an action plan for quitting. Set realistic goals for yourself, and when you accomplish them, celebrate.
  • Learn how to prepare for the withdrawal symptoms that you will experience.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to quitting

#4. Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Consistently drinking more than the recommended alcohol consumption (14 drinks a week for women / 21 drinks for men) can increase your risk of dementia. Drinking frequently exposes your brain to high levels of toxic substances that can cause nerve damage, leading to dementia.

Drinking a lot of alcohol over long periods puts you at a greater risk of developing Korsakoff’s Syndrome.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Limit your drinking to no more than two drinks per day with no more than ten drinks per week for women.
  • Men should limit themselves to 3 drinks per day with no more than 15 drinks per week.
  • If you are currently taking medications, it may cause health-related issues, be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

#5. Social Isolation

Social isolation may increase the risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, and depression, which are risk factors for developing dementia.

Staying active not only will lower the risk of developing dementia, but it may help slow its progression if you currently have signs of dementia.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Join a service group or volunteer.
  • Join a club with other people who have similar interests to you.
  • Meet up with friends, both old and new.
  • Call friends and family often.
  • Stay connected online with others. If you don’t know how to use email or other social apps, challenge yourself to learn how.

#6. Air Pollution

While much research still needs to be done, researchers are analyzing the relationship between air pollution and dementia. They are beginning to see a connection with individuals who live close to busy roads and are at a greater risk of dementia because of the air pollution exposure levels.

To help reduce the risk, you may want to do the following:

  • Be sure to keep indoor air clean with air filters.
  • Pay attention to the air quality advisors and avoid being outside for long periods on bad air quality days.
  • Try to avoid areas with heavy traffic as you exercise. Create exercise walking or running routes that avoid busy roads.

Are There Risk Factors For Dementia That I Can Control?

Yes, many risk factors can be reduced through changes in lifestyle and environment. It is estimated that 40% of dementia cases may result from risk factors that could have been prevented with changes in lifestyle and environment. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poor diet
  • Levels of alcohol consumption
  • Low Cognitive reserve
  • Depression
  • Trauma to the brain
  • Hearing loss
  • Social isolation
  • Air pollution

We will break down all the risk factors for dementia in the following sections.

Are There Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Dementia?

Yes, you can prevent developing with the following tips. These include:

  • Be physically active.
  • Avoid excessive drinking of alcohol and smoking.
  • Go to your annual doctor’s appointment and get your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight checked. Take medications that your doctor recommends to keep all these numbers in check.
  • Stay socially involved online, on the phone, and in person.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Reduce stress when possible.
  • Continue to use your brain through learning new games, doing new hobbies, etc.
  • Take care of your hearing.
  • Reduce your risk of falls by installing proper safety equipment in your home
  • Reduce your exposure to air pollution.

Key Points

  • There are three different types of risk factors for dementia. They are medical, lifestyle, and environmental.
  • Some risk factors play a significant role in the development of dementia, while others only slightly increase your risk of developing dementia.
  • The biggest risk factors are age and genes. Both of these factors cannot be avoided.
  • It is estimated that 40% of dementia cases could be avoided by paying attention to risk factors and making lifestyle changes.
  • Risk factors that cannot be avoided include aging, genes, gender, and ethnicity.
  • These risk factors can be modified to help you lower your risks of developing dementia.
  • Increasing your Cognitive Reserve
  • Taking care of hearing loss
  • Reduce your chances of traumatic brain injuries
  • Take care of high blood pressure.
  • Keep your diabetes under control.
  • If you suffer from depression, get proper treatment.
  • Avoid becoming obese.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Avoid smoking and excessive drinking.
  • Avoid social isolation.
  • Try to avoid exposure to large amounts of air pollution.

Resources

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