Dementia can have a very detrimental and upsetting effect on sufferers and their families, yet incidence of the syndrome is on the rise. Alzheimer’s Society revealed that there are 850,000 people with dementia currently in the UK, with this number predicted to rise to over 1 million by 2025 and 2 million by 2051. Knowing what the risk factors are and acting now could help you reduce the risk of developing dementia in older age.
According to the NHS, dementia is a syndrome that describes different brain disorders that trigger an ongoing decline of the brain function. It is caused by a range of diseases and injuries such as Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia) or stroke. Symptoms include problems with:
- Memory loss
- Mental sharpness and quickness
- Thinking speed
- Difficulties carrying out daily activities
The NHS reports that one of the main risk factors for dementia is age: the older you get the more likely you are to develop dementia. 6 out of 100 people aged 75-79 are expected to get dementia. However, dementia doesn’t just affect those above 65, there is estimated to be 42,000 young people living with dementia in the UK. Alzheimer’s Society explains that ageing as a risk factor for dementia may be due to factors associated with ageing, such as:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Loss of sex hormones after mid-life changes
- Changes to the immune system
- Higher blood pressure
- Weakening of the body’s natural repair systems
- Changes to nerve cells, DNA and cell structure
According to the NHS, certain genetic factors are involved with some more unusual forms of dementia, but usually dementia comes from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Alzheimer’s Research UK explains that risk genes and faulty genes could be risk factors in developing dementia. Risk genes are variations in genes that may alter your risk of diseases which may also increase the likelihood of getting dementia. Faulty genes are genes that we inherit from a parent that don’t work properly which may affect how your body functions and may cause you to develop certain diseases. Some rare forms of Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (which primarily affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain) can be caused by faulty genes.
- Physical inactivity: One of the strongest lifestyle risk factors with direct effects on the structure and function of the brain.
- Unhealthy diet: Having an unhealthy diet can increase your risk of many illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, as well as dementia.
- Smoking: Tobacco has a harmful effect on the blood vessels in the brain and smoking tobacco increases your risk of developing dementia later in life.
- Excessive alcohol: Regular excessive alcohol consumption and regularly drinking over the NHS recommended alcohol levels can increase your risk of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Korsakoff’s syndrome (chronic memory disorder caused by a severe deficiency of vitamin B1) and alcoholic dementia.
Dementia statistics by Alzheimer’s Research UK reveals that only 35% of people living with dementia are men compared to 65% women. Women are more likely to develop dementia than men. One of the reasons for this is likely to be due to women’s longer life expectancy.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) reports that it is more common for older black and minority ethnic (BME) people to have dementia in the UK compared to other ethnicities, partly because of the vascular risk factors found in Afro-Caribbean and South Asian UK populations for illnesses such as hypertension.
The SCIE says that these effects may be due to a mixture of differences between ethnicities such as diet, smoking, exercise and genes. They also report that other ethnic groups have a demographically older population, such as Irish and Jewish, where prevalence of dementia is likely to be higher with a link between age and dementia.
Medical Conditions and Diseases
There are various factors that can affect your risk of developing dementia, with pre-existing medical conditions and diseases being among them.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the main health-related risk factors for dementia (especially vascular dementia caused by problems with blood supply to the brain) are: type 2 diabetes in mid-life or later, high blood pressure in mid-life, obesity in mid-life, high blood cholesterol levels in mid-life and having a cardiovascular disease (which can increases dementia risk by up to two times). Some of these conditions are often avoidable through lifestyle choices.
Ageing and genetics can’t be changed, but your lifestyle factors can, and it may not be too late to develop good habits. According to the NHS, there is no definite way to prevent all dementia types but there is evidence to show that lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of developing dementia.
Research studies have shown that by acting on the risk factors that you are able to change, you can reduce your risk of dementia by up to 30%. This could be done by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy balanced diet, keeping alcohol consumption low, stopping smoking and keeping blood pressure at a healthy level. No matter what age you are, you can still implement good lifestyle choices that may reduce your risk of dementia. If you’re not already making healthy choices, start now.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.