Factors that contribute to the risk of dementia

One in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health throughout their life.

This according to an international study in the Lancet. The study lists nine key risk factors including lack of education, hearing loss, smoking and physical inactivity.

Nine factors that contribute to the risk of dementia

  • Mid-life hearing loss – responsible for 9% of the risk
  • Failing to complete secondary education – 8%
  • Smoking – 5%
  • Failing to seek early treatment for depression – 4%
  • Physical inactivity – 3%
  • Social isolation – 2%
  • High blood pressure – 2%
  • Obesity – 1%
  • Type 2 diabetes – 1%

These risk factors – which are described as potentially modifiable – add up to 35%. The other 65% of dementia risk is thought to be potentially non-modifiable.

The report, which combines the work of 24 international experts, says lifestyle factors can play a major role in increasing or reducing an individual’s dementia risk. It examines the benefits of building a “cognitive reserve”, which means strengthening the brain’s networks so it can continue to function in later life despite damage.

Key points

  • Failure to complete secondary education was a major risk factor, and the authors suggest that individuals who continue to learn throughout life are likely to build additional brain reserves.
  • Another major risk factor is hearing loss in middle age – the researchers said this can deny people a cognitively rich environment and lead to social isolation and depression, which are among other potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia.
  • Another key message from the report is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain.
  • Not smoking, doing exercise, keeping a healthy weight, treating high blood pressure and diabetes can all reduce the risk of dementia, as well as cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
  • The researchers stated that they did not have enough data to include dietary factors or alcohol in their calculations but believe both could be important.

Related Documents

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The District Nursing and General Practice Nursing Service education and career framework

This document sets out the rationale for the need for transformation and development of these nursing services in terms of the supporting policy background, evidence base and the challenges to the capacity and capability of this workforce to deliver services that are increasingly shifting health care delivery into community settings. This document will need to be periodically reviewed and updated in line with the changing NHS landscape and the first review of the frameworks will take place in 2020.
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