Major Risk Factors For Dementia

Dementia is a term used to describe a category of medical conditions that involve a series of symptoms associated with a decline in thinking or memory skills severe enough to affect the individual's daily life. The most well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, and it accounts for sixty to eighty 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.

Smoking

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Heavy smokers are at a pretty high risk for developing dementia later in life than those who do not. In fact, a study conducted in Finland showed individuals from the age of fifty to sixty years old who smoked two packs of cigarettes daily were twice as likely to develop dementia than others who did not smoke. Elderly individuals who smoke are especially at an increased risk of dementia. The study also showed those who used to smoke or who smoked very little did not appear to be at a significantly increased risk for dementia.

Genetic Predispositions

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Individuals are more likely to develop dementia if a close relative such as a parent or sibling has the condition. This risk goes up if they have more than one close family member with dementia. It should be noted that having family members with dementia does not guarantee someone will also develop the condition. It just means they are more at risk of developing it than someone who does not have the family history. To be sure, individuals can get genetically tested to find out what their likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia is. A gene called ApoE4 is strongly associated with dementia. Individuals who carry this gene are two to four times more likely to develop the condition than those who do not carry the gene. Those who carry two copies of this gene are ten times more likely to see dementia in their lifetime.

Gender And Age

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An individual's gender plays a role in their overall risk of developing dementia. Specifically, research shows females are more likely to develop dementia than males. According to a Dutch study, after ninety years old, women were at a higher risk of developing dementia when compared to men. 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, an individual's risk of developing memory loss increases when they turn sixty-five years old. Approximately five million Americans over sixty-five years old are living with dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association reports, an individual's risk for developing Alzheimer's disease doubles every five years after they turn sixty-five years old. 

The number of Americans living with dementia is expected to double within the next forty years. This is because the number of Americans over sixty-five will increase from forty million today to more than eighty-eight million in forty years. Surpassing eighty-five years old puts individuals at a fifty percent risk for developing dementia. With numbers like these, dementia does not seem like a young person's concern. But some individuals may experience dementia at a young age (this can be called early-onset Alzheimer's disease).

Drinking Alcohol

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According to a Chinese study, drinking large amounts of alcohol can increase an individual's risk of dementia and cognitive decline. 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

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Vascular dementia is caused by a stroke and type 2 diabetes has been known to be a significant risk factor for experiencing a stroke for quite some time. A Dutch study stated individuals 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, individuals with elevated blood sugar levels who were not diabetic also had an increased risk of dementia.

High Blood Pressure

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High blood pressure, often referred to as hypertension, can be a significant factor in whether or not someone develops dementia or other forms of memory loss. Research shows long-term hypertension can impede blood flow and damage small arteries in the brain, which may result in brain tissues wasting away, and because of this, dementia or other forms of cognitive decline can occur. A long term study showed an individual's risk of developing dementia doubled if their blood pressure levels were higher than 140-160 mmHg in the long term. The study also indicated individuals who were fifty years old with high blood pressure had poor cognitive performance as compared to seventy-year-olds without high blood pressure.

Atherosclerosis

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Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up in an individual's arteries. This plaque is made up of substances like fat and cholesterol, and over time when plaque hardens, it can narrow and even blocks the arteries. This can drive up a patient's blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen that makes it to their brain. This, in turn, increases the risk of vascular dementia developing. Atherosclerosis can also make an individual's arteries seem older than they actually are, which may also connect to the increased risk of vascular dementia.

High Blood Levels Of Homocysteine

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Research shows elevated blood levels of homocysteine may cause dementia. Homocysteine is an amino acid, which are needed to build up protein. Boston University researchers found high blood levels of homocysteine doubled an individual's chance of developing Alzheimer's disease. With this in mind, individuals can help reduce their homocysteine blood levels by taking B vitamins. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found supplementing with B vitamins stopped the wasting of brain cells associated with dementia. B vitamins also slowed down cognitive decline.

Obesity

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Obesity affects nearly fifty percent of adults. Unfortunately, obesity also comes with an increased risk of experiencing countless health issues, such as heart attack, heart disease, diabetes, and yes, even dementia. The higher risk of developing dementia attached to obesity can be linked to the other health conditions obese individuals are likely to be dealing with, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and a history of heart attacks. This is especially the case when individuals are dealing with excessive belly fat, which can produce chemicals and hormones that increase insulin resistance and inflammation. Overall, as stated, obesity and dementia are connected through other conditions rather than directly with one another.