Dementia is a term used to describe a series of symptoms associated with a decline in thinking or memory skills. It is severe enough to affect a person’s daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. The second most common type of dementia occurs after a stroke and is called vascular dementia. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Dementia is caused by brain cell damage.
Heavy smokers are greatly at risk for developing dementia. A Finland study showed that people from the age of 50 to 60 who smoked two packs of cigarettes daily were twice as likely to develop dementia. Elderly people who smoke are especially at an increased risk of dementia. The study also showed that people who used to smoke or people who smoked very little did not appear to be at an increased risk for dementia.
You are more likely to develop dementia if you have a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling that also has the condition. Your risk goes up if you have more than one first-degree family member with dementia. It should be noted that having family members with dementia does not guarantee you will also develop the condition.
To be sure, you can get genetically tested to find out your likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia. A gene called ApoE4 is strongly associated with dementia. People who carry this gene are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop the condition. Those who carry two copies of this gene are 10 times more likely to see dementia in their lifetime.
Your gender plays a role in the likelihood that you will develop dementia. Research shows that females are more likely to develop dementia than males. After the age of 90, women were at a higher risk developing dementia when compared to males, according to a Dutch study.
The United States census shows that the fastest growing age group for developing dementia is the 90 and over group. Females make up 75 percent of the 90 and over age group. Women who carry the ApoE4 gene are at a greater risk of developing dementia than men with the gene.
Although dementia is not a normal part of aging, your risk of developing memory loss increases when you turn 65. Approximately 5 million Americans over the age of 65 are living with dementia. According to Alzheimer’s Association reports, your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years after you turn 65.
The number of Americans living with dementia is expected to double within the next 40 years. This is because the number of Americans age 65 and older will increase from 40 million today to more than 88 million in 40 years (or the year 2050).
Surpassing the age of 85 puts you at a 50 percent risk for developing dementia. With numbers like these, dementia does not seem like a young person’s concern. But some people may experience dementia at a young age.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause dementia and cognitive decline, according to a Chinese study. The study stated that heavy drinking was associated with an increased risk of dementia and light drinking had a lower risk.
A British study confirmed these findings by showing the relationship between drinking alcohol and developing dementia. Light drinking may be able to protect brain cells from developing dementia while those who did not drink occasionally were not found to have this protective barrier. Those who carry the gene ApoE4 and drink heavily are especially at an increased risk of dementia.
Type 2 Diabetes
Vascular dementia is caused after a stroke occurs and type 2 diabetes is long known to cause strokes. A Dutch study stated that people with type 2 diabetes were at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia. Risk factors were highest in those who were receiving insulin as part of their treatment.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people with elevated blood sugar levels who were not diabetic also had an increased risk of dementia.
High Blood Pressure
Also known as hypertension, your blood pressure can dictate whether or not you will develop memory loss. Long term cases of hypertension might impede blood flow and damage small arteries in the brain. This may cause brain tissues to waste away, which can lead to dementia or cognitive decline.
A long term study showed that dementia risks doubled if a person’s blood pressure levels were higher than 140-160 mm HG. The study also indicated that 50 year olds with high blood pressure had poor cognitive performance as compared to 70 year olds.
Atherosclerosis occurs when there is an accumulation of cholesterol, fat and other substances in the inner lining of an artery. It is associated with an increased risk of dementia, according to a Dutch study.
A study conducted in Baltimore, Maryland’s Johns Hopkins showed that intracranial atherosclerosis, or arteries within the skull of the brain, especially caused an increased risk for dementia.
High Blood Levels of Homocysteine
Research shows that elevated blood levels of homocysteine may cause dementia. Homocysteine is an amino acid, which are needed to build up protein. Boston University researchers found that high blood levels of homocysteine doubled a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
You can help reduce your homocysteine blood levels by taking your B vitamins. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that supplementing with B vitamins stopped the wasting of brain cells that are associated with dementia. B vitamins also slowed down cognitive decline.
Obesity affects nearly 50 percent of adults. Having a body mass index (BMI) over 30 kg/m2 puts you in the category of being obese. Obesity puts you at an increased risk of developing dementia. Harvard Medical School published a study that linked an increased BMI to an increased risk of dementia.
This was backed by another study that showed an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life when a person was obese during midlife. A third study published in Neurology stated that midlife central obesity was associated with an increased risk of dementia