As people start to age, fears of dementia are usually among their most prevalent concerns. In fact, 1 in 4 people aged over 55 already have a close relative with dementia and therefore it is an issue that tends to be every present in the lives of many.
However, dementia is not inevitable as we age and there is a lot you can do to reduce your chances of developing it. If you are worried about a loved one developing dementia, learn more about the main risk factors for dementia and how to limit your risk:
Although there’s nothing we can do about this one, it is necessary to mention. Of everything on this list, age is one of the strongest known risk factors for dementia, especially among people living in retirement. The numbers indicate that dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80.
This is likely due primarily to other risk factors associated with ageing, such as higher blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, changes to nerve cells, DNA and cell structure, loss of sex hormones after mid-life changes, and the weakening of the body’s natural repair systems changes in the immune system.
In addition to inevitable deterioration of the body due to aging, scientists now know that the genes we inherit from our parents can affect whether or not we are likely to develop certain diseases.
Although the extent of the role of genes in the development of dementia is not yet fully understood, researchers have located more than 20 genes that do not directly cause dementia but affect a person’s risk of developing it. They have also found that it is possible to inherit genes that directly cause dementia, although these are much less common.
3. Diseases and cardiovascular factors
There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that any condition which causes damage to the heart, arteries or blood circulation is likely to increase a person’s chances of developing dementia.
Collectively known as cardiovascular risk factors, the key ones in term of dementia include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high total blood cholesterol levels, and obesity.
People who suffer from bouts of depression, particularly in mid to late life, may have a higher risk of developing risk factors for dementia. Although the evidence is still relatively inconclusive and the reasoning is not fully established, there is some evidence that depression in middle age does lead to a higher dementia risk in older age.
Alternatively, if depressive episodes only start to present themselves later on, when a person is in their 60s or older, they may be seen as an early symptom of dementia, rather than a risk factor for it.
5. Physical inactivity
When it comes to the lifestyle risk factors of dementia, physical inactivity is among the most important. One of the strongest factors for developing dementia, too little exercise is also closely linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Although we tend to focus on the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of inactivity, it is important to draw attention to the ways in which it has direct effects on the structure and function of the brain.
Smoking tobacco is another lifestyles choice that also has harmful effects on the blood vessels in the brain. A significant risk factor for dementia, smoking also contributes to the likelihood of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
7. Unhealthy diet
An unhealthy diet, particularly one that contains too much saturated fat, also contributes to risk of dementia. When the body is forced to process too much unhealth fat, it raises cholesterol, narrows the arteries and leads to weight gain.
Too much salt or sugar are also problematic as they act as additional risk factors in the likelihood of high blood pressure and weight gain.
8. Excessive alcohol
Regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol is also a significantly risk factor for developing dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Especially if it takes places over a longer period of time, excessive consumption of alcohol has been liked to notable brain damage.
Changing habits related to alcohol can be challenging, but it is important to know that there are many resources available to help.
9. Head injuries
Head injuries, especially if they caused the person to be knocked out, also increases the risk of developing dementia later in life. In fact, about a fifth of professional boxers go on to develop some type of dementia while they age.
It is now widely believed that this is caused by protein deposits formed in the brain as a result of head injury. Although there is not much that can be done if the injury has already been sustained, it is important to pay closer attention to the risk factors that you can still control if former head trauma exists.