A major new study has identified 15 lifestyle factors that can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing dementia before the age of 65. The research, published in the journal Neurology, provides important insights into how certain modifiable risk factors can impact brain health and contribute to cognitive decline at a relatively young age.
Key risk factors
The study analyzed risk factors for early-onset dementia among over 2 million adults in the UK Biobank database. Researchers identified the following key factors that were associated with developing dementia before age 65:
Health and medical factors
- Hearing loss
- Traumatic brain injury
- Alcohol abuse
- Cannabis use
- Physical inactivity
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Low educational attainment
- Air pollution exposure
People with the highest number of risk factors were up to 8 times more likely to develop early-onset dementia compared to those with the lowest risk.
Lead researcher Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux stated:
“Many studies have shown links between lifestyle factors and dementia risk, but our study is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date in younger adults across such a broad range of modifiable factors.”
She emphasized that dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging – addressing these risk factors throughout life can significantly reduce a person’s chances of cognitive impairment and decline.
The study also highlights the need for a life-course approach to prevention. As Dr. Singh-Manoux explained:
“Our findings suggest that prevention strategies should begin early in adulthood…since risk exposure at younger ages can have lasting impacts on dementia risk.”
|Specific Risk Factors
|Health and medical
|Hypertension, obesity, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury
|Smoking, excessive alcohol, cannabis use, physical inactivity, social isolation, low education, air pollution
Table: Summary of key risk factors for early-onset dementia identified in the study.
Public health impact
The findings have major implications for public health policies aimed at curbing the growing prevalence of dementia worldwide.
As noted in Fast Company, lead author Singh-Manoux described the impact of loneliness on early cognitive decline as equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Researchers say this signals an urgent need to address loneliness as a major public health threat.
Population attributable fractions indicated that up to 40% of dementia cases could potentially be prevented through risk reduction interventions over the life course. Researchers conclude that policies targeting modifiable risk factors could significantly reduce the societal burden of dementia.
Response from Alzheimer’s organizations
Charities and advocacy organizations have responded to the study saying more must be done to raise awareness of dementia prevention strategies.
Alzheimer’s Society has launched an awareness campaign about understanding dementia risk factors across all age groups. The campaign highlights the importance of research into early detection and diagnosis.
Meanwhile in Canada, the CEO of the local Alzheimer Society Niagara Region said:
“The study shows us again that dementia is not inevitable or strictly genetic – there are things we can do to lower our risk of dementia.”
She emphasized that dementia risk reduction should be part of mainstream public health messaging.
Experts say the study highlights the need for health policies targeting the wider prevention of neurological disorders, not just treatment.
Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux suggests the research is “a step toward elucidating the complex origins of dementia and opening up avenues for prevention strategies“. She cautions that further analysis of risk factor interactions is still needed.
Nonetheless, the study provides evidence that people can potentially take control of cognitive health by addressing modifiable lifestyle factors. While some risk genes cannot be altered, many evidence-based prevention strategies exist across the 15 factors identified.
Implementing policies to promote risk-reducing behaviors from early adulthood may help to curb the projected trajectory of skyrocketing dementia cases. As researchers conclude – dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging if individuals and governments take appropriate preventative actions.
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