Families whose loved ones have dementia may wonder if they, too, are at risk for getting the disease. Although genetics certainly is among the greatest risk factors, researchers have found that other factors may play a role – and that there are things we can do to reduce our risk.
In its 2023 World Alzheimer’s Report, Alzheimer’s Disease International noted that the science of risk reduction is moving at “breakneck speed.” Here are some of the risks that the report explores:
Risks you cannot change
- Aging: the leading risk factor for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
- Family history and genetics
- Sex and gender: women are at greater risk of dementia, and not only because they tend to live longer than men.
Risks that can be modified
- physical/lifestyle risks
- poor diet
- cardiovascular issues
- hearing loss
- high blood pressure
- physical inactivity
- excessive alcohol use
- traumatic brain injury
- cigarette smoking
- social isolation
- environmental and societal risks
- air pollution
- socioeconomic factors
- low education
Brain health risk reduction
A groundbreaking study identified mental stimulation as one of the five “fingers” of risk reduction, in addition to physical activities, healthy foods, social activities, and vascular monitoring. Much research has been done to support the idea that mental stimulation helps prevent cognitive impairment. It stands to reason that a healthy mind is more resilient to dementia than an unhealthy one.
Mental activities and exercises can include:
- playing a musical instrument
- choral singing
- technology training
- speaking more than one language
- learning something new
Risk reduction for those already diagnosed with dementia
Many of the strategies that have been developed for reducing your risk of getting Alzheimer’s also apply to reducing the risk of faster disease progression.
Communities, cities, and nations also can help reduce the risk of the rate of progressive dementia and improve the quality of life for dementia residents, particularly at the early stages. Some programs that have garnered interest include:
- dementia cafes in Japan
- public dance programs in Indonesia
- community gathering places
- dementia daycare centers
The world of dementia research and therapies is one of rich opportunity—opportunity for scientists, for health practitioners, for dementia care workers, for our aging loved ones and their families, and even for ourselves.
Sources: “Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission; Center for Disease Control’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” May 20, 2022; Alzheimer’s Disease International, “World Alzheimer Report 2023: Never Too Early, Never Too Late,” September 2023; The “Finger” Study: “Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability,” 2015.