Skip to content

What Are The Risk Factors For Dementia?

January 25th, 2022

A dementia diagnosis can be difficult for the whole family to deal with, not just the patient themselves. After a diagnosis, it’s natural to search for an explanation for why this has happened, and whether there’s anything that could have been done to prevent it. It’s also natural to worry whether the rest of the family is now at risk.

As there’s currently no cure for dementia, it’s important to be aware of the potential risk factors for dementia, so you have the knowledge you need to make any lifestyle changes you feel are necessary.

5 Potential Risk Factors For Dementia

The potential risk factors for dementia include everything from genetics and weight to lifestyle habits and even mental health.

1. Genetics

elderly woman talking to younger woman

It’s thought that dementia is most likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but statistics from the Alzheimer’s Society show that 1 in 4 people aged 55+ has a close birth relative with dementia.

Women may also be more likely to receive a dementia diagnosis than men, as 65% of all people currently living with dementia are women. It is thought that this may be linked to the decline in women’s oestrogen production following the menopause, whereas men’s bodies continue to produce testosterone throughout their lives. Research is ongoing into this connection to determine the impact of oestrogen on brain health.

2. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure may also be one of the risk factors for dementia, with the World Alzheimer Report 2014 analysing long-term studies looking at patients with high blood pressure in mid-life (aged 40-64 years) were more likely to go on to develop vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain – something that may be influenced by high blood pressure levels. Vascular dementia is most common in people aged 65 and over, and it’s believed that healthy lifestyle changes may help to slow down its development.

3. Smoking

Smoking can harm many aspects of health, but one impact of smoking is that it impacts the circulation of blood around the body; in particular, this can impact the blood vessels to the brain, which may increase the risk of dementia. 

Cigarettes also contain toxins that may cause oxidative stress in the brain. Oxidative stress has been linked to an increased risk of age-related neurodegenerative conditions. If you need support to give up smoking, contact your GP.

4. Excess Alcohol Consumption

pouring a glass of red wine

Regularly exceeding your recommended alcohol units for the week (14 units per week for both men and women), may increase your risk of brain damage, which could affect your cognitive function as you get older.

It’s therefore important to make sure you stick to your recommended weekly units at a maximum to help manage this risk factor for dementia.

5. Depression

Research is ongoing into the link between depression or low mood and dementia, but it’s known that feelings of depression can make you less likely to engage in mentally stimulating activities. This means you aren’t necessarily training your brain and working on your cognitive function.

However, depression can also be a consequence of dementia, which makes it difficult to analyse the link between the two. 

If you’re worried about your own mental health or that of a loved one, you should always speak to your GP, who’ll be able to offer advice and support.

How To Reduce The Risk Of Dementia

There are many studies that are ongoing into how people can reduce their risk of dementia, and it’s hoped that there’ll be increased understanding of how the condition develops in the near future.

People aged 40-74 who don’t have any pre-existing conditions are entitled to a free NHS Health Check every five years to monitor factors such as your weight and blood pressure, which may help you to identify your risk factors for dementia.

And while it’s important to avoid known risk factors for dementia such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol, there are other lifestyle changes you can try to help manage your risk of dementia.

1. Eat a Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean-style salad with olive oil

A Mediterranean-style diet is believed to have many health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, as well as helping you to maintain a healthy weight. The Mediterranean diet is rich in:

  • Lean meat
  • Oily fish (a good source of essential omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grains
  • Pulses
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables

Research has also linked the Mediterranean diet to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by several years. This discovery was made by a team led by Dr Lisa Mosconi of Weill Cornell Medicine, who compared brain imaging scans of people who ate a Mediterranean diet to scans from people who consumed a standard Western diet, featuring more processed and refined foods.

At the start of the two-year study period, the Western diet group was already showing more beta-amyloid deposits in their brains than the Mediterranean diet cohort. Beta-amyloids are proteins known to collect in the brains of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, those eating a primarily Western diet showed reductions in energy use in their brains, which is also believed to be a risk factor for dementia.

Two years later, follow-up scans showed an even greater level of beta-amyloids and a further reduction in energy use in those following a Western diet in comparison to those eating a Mediterranean-style diet. This led the researchers to conclude that there could be a delay of up to 3.5 years in the development of Alzheimer’s in those consuming a Mediterranean diet.

Dr Mosconi explained: “We’re seeing these changes only in parts of the brain specifically affected by Alzheimer’s, and in relatively young adults.

“It all points to the way we eat putting us at risk for Alzheimer’s down the line. If your diet isn’t balanced, you really need to make an effort to fix it, if not for your body, then for your brain.”

2. Maintain A Healthy Weight

A Mediterranean-style diet may help to maintain a healthy weight, but there are many options for managing your weight. Being overweight or obese may increase your likelihood of high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for dementia, so it’s important to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly to manage this risk.

A sedentary lifestyle can result in less blood flowing to the brain, which is also known to be a risk factor for dementia. The NHS recommends that adults take part in 150 minutes of physical activity every week, divided across several exercise sessions. 

3. Brain Training Exercises

chess pieces on chessboard

There’s been a lot of research into the effects of regular brain training on cognitive function, with one study from the Alzheimer’s Society following 7,000 participants aged 50 and over as they took part in a computer brain training package over a six-month period.

After six months, participants showed notable improvements in reasoning and reckoning, with over-60s also reporting an improvement in their ability to:

  • Manage a household budget
  • Prepare meals
  • Shop
  • Use public transport 

Brain training exercises you can try to help manage your risk of dementia include:

  • Daily puzzles, such as crosswords or sudoku
  • Learning a new skill or trying a new hobby
  • Playing card games or board games
  • Challenging yourself to brainteasers – there are plenty to be found online

Dementia Care At New Care

If you’re looking for specialist support for a loved one with dementia, New Care is here to help. Our dementia care services within our ‘Forget Me Not’ communities are designed to ensure comfort and familiarity to those with memory loss. Staff are trained in managing the individual needs of each resident, so you can be assured your loved one is in safe hands. 

All of our residents living with dementia undergo a thorough assessment, which allows us to create an individual care plan for every resident. We believe that everyone living within our Forget Me Not communities should be encouraged to take risks in a supportive environment, and have fun in their lives. 

Browse our care homes to find a care home near you, or contact us if you have any questions about dementia care at New Care.