A major new study has identified 15 lifestyle, medical, and sociodemographic factors that are linked to a person’s risk of developing young-onset dementia before the age of 65. The findings highlight the potential to reduce dementia risk through targeting some of these modifiable factors.
Study examines wide range of risk factors
Published in the journal Neurology, the study looked at a wider range of risk factors for young-onset dementia than previous research. Over 1.7 million people were included in the analysis using UK Biobank data.
During the 9-year follow-up period, 568 people developed young-onset dementia. Researchers then examined associations between a diagnosis and various factors including lifestyle habits like smoking and fruit/vegetable intake, medical conditions, early-life factors, and socioeconomic status.
15 factors were identified based on statistical analysis as having significant links with young-onset dementia risk. Of these, some are non-modifiable like ethnicity and deprivation. However, several relate to potentially modifiable health and lifestyle factors.
Modifiable lifestyle factors
Some of the key lifestyle factors from the study that may increase dementia risk include:
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Poor diet quality – low fruit/vegetable intake
- Physical inactivity
- High blood pressure
- Low educational attainment
- Social isolation
As lead study author Jessica Lo from the University of Oxford explained:
“The good news is that this research highlights some risk factors that can be modified to help prevent dementia at an earlier age.”
She added that combining multiple lifestyle changes could significantly lower a person’s risk.
Potential for risk reduction
While some risk factors cannot be altered, the evidence suggests targeting lifestyle and medical factors could substantially reduce a person’s likelihood of developing young-onset dementia.
Experts commenting on the study claim that addressing factors like obesity and physical activity could prevent up to 40% of dementia cases. Dr Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Alongside diagnosis improvements, research like this focused on risk reduction has huge potential to help stem the global impact of dementia.”
Further studies are being conducted to better understand dementia prevention strategies. Some clinical trials are directly testing methods like exercise programs and improved diet quality.
There is also emerging research on other potential factors not examined in the current study, like air pollution exposure and hearing loss. Investigating a wide range of influences on dementia development will help guide prevention recommendations.
Overall though, this study significantly advances knowledge on lifestyle habits to target for reducing young-onset dementia occurrence. Tackling factors like smoking and diabetes earlier in adulthood could pay great dividends for brain health later in life.
Quotes on study findings
“This research really highlights the importance of healthy lifestyles to help reduce dementia risk, even at a younger age.” – Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society
“The findings show the potential to cut dementia cases through addressing factors like obesity and diet, especially in mid-life.” – Hilary Evans, CEO at Alzheimer’s Research UK
“We recommend people keep their minds and bodies active, eat a balanced diet, address hearing loss, maintain social connections, and monitor cardiovascular health to lower young-onset dementia likelihood.” – Dr Kaj Blennow, Professor at University of Gothenburg
Outlook and next steps
In light of these research revelations on potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, health authorities are reviewing guidance on lifestyle measures people can take. Updated recommendations around diet, exercise and managing conditions like diabetes will emphasize brain health benefits.
There are also calls for policy initiatives promoting dementia prevention education and improved access to programs supporting healthy lifestyle changes. Tackling societal issues like social isolation and deprivation may prove more challenging but will likely form part of future public health strategies.
While more evidence is still needed, putting these latest study findings into practice could pay dividends in reducing dementia occurrence.
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