Dementia Risk Factors – How to Lower Them

Dementia risk factors can be lowered by embracing certain lifestyle choices. Knowing what these choices are early in life and avoiding the risks posed by contrary actions can be preventive and delay the onset of dementia.  

What is Dementia?

Although the incidence of dementia is observed to increase with age, its genesis may be triggered  much earlier in life.

It is a progressive loss of cognitive function, marked by confused thinking, memory problems, trouble communicating and impaired judgment. There is a wide range of symptoms from minor difficulty functioning to severe impairment.

Dementia currently affects a little over 50 million people globally, and the number is quickly rising  especially among low- to middle income countries where two thirds of people with dementia live. Women are also more likely to develop dementia than men

It most often occurs around the age of 65 and older but is a more severe form of decline than normal aging. People who develop dementia may  their emotions, especially anger, and their personalities may change.

Is Dementia a Disease of the Elderly?

The perception that  Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are diseases of the elderly is inaccurate.

For example, the exposure of babies to high levels of air pollution can create harm to the brain establishing a risk factor early on in life that remains with aging.

Dementia Risk Factors
Elderly Woman With Daughter

The word Dementia is a term that refers to age-related cognitive decline caused by different factors including the aging process, in some people. The most common type  of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for most types of dementia, but certain treatments can help alleviate the symptoms temporarily.

It is heartening to see that there is research which  shows there is much that can be done  at any age—to protect the brain by preventing or delaying mental decline .

According to University of Southern California – Health Sciences (2020) Forty percent of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed by targeting 12 risk factors throughout human life

Dementia Risk Factors

Recent research has identified that 40 percent of dementia is accounted for by 12 risks that can be modified according to the Lancet Commission analysis on research data by 28 scientists in 2020. These risks are called modifiable risk factors and are not solely restricted to old age.

12 Major Dementia Risk Factors

These 12 risk factors account for about 40 percent of dementia cases. these are listed below as factors that could progressively trigger a higher risk, developing from infancy through mid-age to elderly

Dementia Risk Factors
Elderly Man and Woman
  • Air pollution
  • Limited early-childhood illiteracy
  • Obesity
  • Head injury
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • Mid-life hearing loss
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Physical inactivity

Other Risk Factors

  • Genes and family history
  • Gender – women are at higher risk
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic sleep deprivation,
  • Some  medications,
  • Chemicals that may be harmful in household products and cosmetics,
  • Pesticides, and other toxic chemicals. 

Preventive Measures and Lifestyle Changes to Control the 12 Modifiable Risk Factors

Avoid Air Pollution

Air pollution has severe effects on the physical and mental health of children and adults. This results in  higher incidents of asthma, lung diseases, mortality, and hospitalizations.

Molig 2021 mentioned a study that showed that seniors living in a high-pollution environment for three years had a higher risk for dementia and also a higher rate of mental health challenges such as depression. So, what can you do?

Reduce air pollution in your own home and buy air purifiers if necessary.

Download the EPA or Environment Canada app and use it to guide your outdoor activity. If you are in a vulnerable age group or have chronic health conditions, avoid going outside during poor air quality days.

Avoid Childhood Illiteracy

It is recommended that childhood education should begin early. This is because the storehouse of skills, knowledge, and information in the brain, might compensate or prevent some forms of dementia.

Maintain a Lifestyle that Does Not Promote Obesity

Obesity is associated with a variety of health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Healthy eating is encouraged, while junk food, processed foods, sugar infused drinks and beverages should be discouraged, limited or eliminated.

Prevent Head Injuries

Falls and head injuries cause physical damage to the brain and disrupt normal brain function. They can occur at home, during contact sports, exercise such as riding a bike, or in an accident Prevent falls at home, wear your seat belt, and wear appropriate safety gear when exercising.

Shun Smoking and Avoid all Forms of Second-Hand Smoke

Although most people know that smoking damages the heart and lungs, few are aware that it also  thins the cortex (the thinking area) of the brain, A thinner cortex is associated with mental decline. Don’t self-pollute.

Only Drink Alcohol in Moderate Amounts

Excessive drinking affects the ability of your brain to generate new neurons and causes shrinkage in the memory center of the  brain (the hippocampus), as well as pus you at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and severe brain damage.

If you must drink at all, the CDC recommends drinking in moderation—no more than two standard drinks per day for men and one for women.

Diet and Exercise to Keep Blood Pressure Low

High blood pressure damages your arteries and can lead to blood clots, reduced blood flow and nutrition to the brain, vascular dementia or stroke. Discuss how to manage this condition with your doctor.

Lowering your salt intake, getting regular exercise, weight loss and managing stress are beneficial and helpful things to do. Certain spices and herbs are known to boost cognitive health

Prevent Diabetes

Because diabetes can damage the blood vessels, it increases the risk of vascular dementia. This type of dementia occurs due to brain damage that is often caused by reduced or blocked blood flow to your brain.

Consult with your doctor to manage this medical condition.

Prevent Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can interfere with mental processing. To prevent mental decline, use hearing aids if you need them. To protect your ears, avoid noisy environments and high noise levels.

With the benefit of hindsight, most older adults wish they had been more careful around excessively loud noise around them in their younger days!

Avoid Social Isolation

Regular social engagement may provide some protection against dementia. Interacting and communicating with others is an essential aspect of social living. Without it, the cognitive decline all too soon will step in.

In brain scans, study participants with higher levels of social engagement displayed a healthier brain structure than those with lower levels of social engagement.

Avoid Physical Inactivity

There are physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise. Adopt a formal exercise program if possible and stay active with other daily activities and household chores.

Exercise can even prevent the progression of mild cognitive impairment to more serious dementia, according to studies.

Prevent Depression

Depression is highly correlated with developing dementia, and dementia can also lead to depression. Treating the mind is good for the brain.

Possible treatments of the mind include

  • Challenging your brain with new and interesting activities – board games, sudoku etc
  • Finding a motivating purpose in your life,
  • Totally eliminating a negative mindset
  • Having a good night’s rest of  7-9 hours per night,
  • Preventing periodontal disease,
  • Reading,
  • Singing and dancing.

Conclusion

Key dementia risk factors can be managed by adjustments to lifestyle. Prevention is better than cure so they say, and a stich in time saves nine!

References

Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission – The Lancet

University of Southern California – Health Sciences. “Forty percent of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed by targeting 12 risk factors throughout life.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 July 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200730123651.htm

Selig, M (2020) Silver Sparks: Thoughts on Growing Older, Wiser, and Happier Paperback – Large Print, September 23, 2020 – https://amzn.to/3gYwE6p

4 thoughts on “Dementia Risk Factors – How to Lower Them”

  1. Very interesting article about dementia. I used to believe that dementia was mainly genetically transmitted, but I was wrong. There are so many other factors! One factor that really surprised me is the exposition to high air pollution for babies. That makes so much sense! Thank you for this informative post. I have learned so much about dementia, its risk factors, and how to prevent them.

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    So, to sum it up, we must be in constant brain activity throughout our life to prevent dementia? Either socially or academically, for example studying, taking courses as an adult. All that works as a preventive measure?
    Are there many cases of people with dementia who have no family members left to take care of them? What happens to them?

    Reply
    • Hi Christine,
      These are really good questions. Yes, keeping the brain active is very important to its health throughout life. I suspect that there must be government funded programs that cater for people with dementia who have no family members left to take care of them. I am absolutely sure they would probably go into special Care homes.

      Ceci

      Reply

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