A major new study has identified 15 lifestyle and health factors that can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing dementia before the age of 65. The research provides important new evidence that cases of early onset dementia can potentially be reduced through modifiable risk factors.
Large-Scale Analysis Finds Most Risk Factors Are Not Genetic
Published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the study analyzed risk factors in over 2 million adults in the UK Biobank study.
Crucially, the analysis determined that less than 5% of dementia risk in those under 65 is due to genetic factors. The remaining risk depends heavily on aspects of a person’s lifestyle and health.
Study lead author Dr Jonathan Huntley of the University of Exeter Medical School commented:
“The fact that we’ve identified numerous factors that can be modified gives real hope that there are ways to reduce a person’s risk of young onset dementia.”
12 Key Factors That Raise Early Onset Dementia Risk
The study revealed 12 key factors that can significantly raise a person’s likelihood of developing dementia before age 65:
- Hearing loss
- High blood pressure
- Drinking over 21 units of alcohol per week
- Having depression
- Being socially isolated
- Being inactive
- Being obese
- Lower cognitive ability in childhood
- Never attending higher education
- Traumatic brain injury
On the effects of excessive drinking, study co-author Dr Kenneth Langa said:
“Even drinking 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week raises dementia risk…People should stick to recommended guidelines.”
|Adjusted Hazard Ratio
|High blood pressure
|>21 alcohol units per week
Table: Hazard ratios for selected risk factors associated with higher risk of developing early onset dementia. Adjusted for confounding factors.
(For the full table of hazard ratios, see the study details on MedicalXpress.)
Lifestyle Changes Could Cut Risk By Up to 40%
Crucially, the researchers estimated that eliminating 8 of the 15 risk factors could potentially reduce an individual’s risk of young onset dementia by up to 40%.
On the significance of the lifestyle factors found, senior author Professor Carol Brayne said:
“Many questions remain, but what is clear is that young onset dementia risk could potentially be reduced through modifiable health and lifestyle factors.”
The study indicates that simple lifestyle changes like increasing exercise, maintaining healthy weight, avoiding excessive alcohol and treating issues like hearing loss could lead to lower dementia rates.
Related Factors Also Raise Risk
In addition to the 12 core risk factors above, the study found 3 other related factors associated with increased likelihood of early onset dementia:
- Low vitamin D levels
- Lack of pets or animal interactions
On vitamin D, study author David Llewellyn explained:
“We found a link between low vitamin D and increased risk…Ensuring adequate levels may offset cognitive decline.”
With dementia rates rising globally, experts say understanding risk factors for early onset forms of dementia will become increasingly vital.
As life expectancies lengthen, delaying dementia onset by even a few years could significantly limit its future health burden.
The study authors conclude that population-level behaviour change and public health strategies targeting the risk factors identified could lead to lower dementia prevalence in generations to come.
Further research is still needed to refine the risk levels attributed to each factor and fully gauge effectiveness of potential interventions.
However, experts broadly agree that addressing factors like obesity and isolation seems highly likely to reduce dementia risk based on existing evidence.
“We need to balance the need for more evidence with decisions and advice needed now for individuals and populations,” said Professor Tom Dening of the University of Nottingham.
With cases rising, scientists say taking action based on current knowledge could already change trajectories – preventing thousands of potential cases.
This breaking news story was compiled using information from media reports on the new early onset dementia study published December 26th 2023. Primary source links are included for reference and further reading.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.