Dementia: Risk factors and prevention
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There are two kinds of risk factors for dementia: non-modifiable and modifiable.
Non-modifiable risk factors are ones that cannot be changed or eliminated, like aging, family history and genetics. Most cases of dementia aren’t related to genetics or inherited.
The chance of getting dementia generally increases with age. The likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia is more than six times higher in people aged 80 and over compared to those aged 65-79. Not everyone develops the condition as they age.
Modifiable dementia risk factors are ones you can control by taking action such as:
- staying active
- avoiding smoking
- limiting alcohol consumption
- wearing a helmet when you bike or ski
- managing chronic health conditions, such as:
- high blood pressure
Changes in the brain that may lead to dementia can begin decades before signs or symptoms appear. It is never too early or too late to take action that can benefit your brain health.
Some studies have identified several modifiable risk factors associated with a greater risk of developing dementia. It is estimated that 12 risk factors could explain 40% of cases of dementia globally. These risk factors are organized below according to the time in life when each is usually expected to begin playing a role; if they remain present, their impact is expected to continue throughout the rest of life. These factors can also impact an individual’s overall health, including the prevention and management of other chronic conditions such as diabetes.
|Age group||Risk factor||Increased chance of developing dementia compared to someone without this risk factor|
|Early life (under 45 years of age)||Lower levels of education||60%|
|Midlife (45 to 65 years old)||Hearing loss||90%|
|Traumatic brain injury||80%|
(more than 21 unitsFootnote * per week)
|Later life (over 65 years of age)||Depression||90%|
A healthy lifestyle can help to lower the chance of developing dementia and delay symptoms. It can also help prevent other chronic conditions that in turn are linked to a greater chance of developing dementia.
Healthy lifestyle changes include:
- preventing and managing health conditions like:
- reaching and staying at a healthy weight
- protecting yourself from hearing loss by wearing:
- hearing aids to balance any hearing loss
- ear protection when you can't avoid excessive noise
- socializing regularly with friends and other members of your community
- wearing a helmet when doing any activity where there is a risk of head injury, such as biking, skiing, or playing a contact sport
- cognitively challenging yourself by continuing to learn new things and engaging in new activities
The chance of developing dementia can also be reduced by:
- being physically active
- limiting alcohol consumption
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- managing depression, if you have it
- reducing your exposure to air pollution
- paying attention to the quality of your sleep
- quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
- Canadian Institute for Health information: Dementia prevention and treatment
- National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health: Alzheimer's disease and related dementias in Indigenous populations in Canada: Prevalence and risk factors
- Alzheimer Society of Canada: How can I prevent dementia?
- The Lancet: Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission
- Forward with dementia: Your family’s risk of dementia
- Forward with dementia: Supporting health and wellbeing (for care providers)
- World Health Organization: Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO guidelines
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