Dementia is a broad term that refers to overall cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease. There are many risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition later in life. It is important to note that risk factors are not causes; just because you have one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will develop dementia. It merely means that your chances of developing the condition are higher than those of someone who doesn’t exhibit any risk factors. Some risk factors are within your control, while others are not.
Nine Top Risk Factors for Dementia
Age is the strongest risk factor for dementia. Although it is possible to develop dementia at a younger age, the vast majority of cases occur in individuals aged 65 or over. In fact, once you pass the age of 65, your risk of dementia doubles roughly every five years. While there is nothing you can do to stop the ageing process, you can focus on ageing well to help stave off physical and cognitive decline.
Family History and Genetics
Scientists have discovered numerous genes that play a role in whether or not a person will ultimately develop dementia or Alzheimer’s. Some of these genes are considered risk genes, meaning they increase the likelihood of developing the condition while not directly causing it. There are also a few deterministic genes that guarantee a person will develop dementia at some point in their lives. If you have others in your family with the disease, your risk is greatly increased as well, multiplying for each additional family member with the condition.
Frequent Head Injuries
Researchers have found a strong link between head injuries and cognitive decline. The risk is increased even more when head injuries occur frequently and when the person loses consciousness. The best way to minimize your risk in this area is to employ basic safety practices, like always wearing a helmet when riding a bike and a seat belt when driving. If you have experienced head trauma in the past, all hope is not lost. Do your best to prevent it from happening again in the future, though.
There are a variety of cardiovascular conditions that can increase your risk of developing dementia later on in life. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity all boost your risk. To help combat this risk, do your part to stay healthy by reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet, and practice physical fitness on a regular basis. Your doctor can advise you on the best diet and exercise choices to meet your needs and help prevent these common conditions.
In addition to increasing your risk of developing the cardiovascular conditions listed in the previous section, leading a sedentary lifestyle also increases your risk of dementia. While the specific reasons behind this are not entirely clear, researchers believe that it is due to the changes physical exercise creates in your brain. A lack of physical activity reduces blood flow to your brain, which can lead to damage over time. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, even if it is just a leisurely stroll.
Smoking has major effects on your entire body, not just your lungs. Smoking also affects your heart, brain and entire vascular system. Not only that, but it also increases your risk of developing cardiovascular conditions. The combination of all of these effects significantly increases your risk of dementia. It is never too late to quit smoking. When you quit, the positive effects on your body begin almost immediately and continue to increase over time, so get the help you need to quit right away.
Lack of Cognitive Stimulation
Your brain needs ongoing stimulation to stay sharp. If your lifestyle doesn’t provide much in the way of mental stimulation, you’ll need to go out of your way to get it for yourself. This is common among retirees who no longer have their jobs to keep their minds active. Activities like crossword puzzles and other word games can help stave off cognitive decline. Try to remain socially active as well; interacting with others helps to keep your mind active. Playing games, either in person or online, can help too. Basically, anything you can do to keep your brain as active as possible will help.
Consuming too much alcohol on a regular basis can have far-reaching effects, not just on your body, but on your brain as well. Frequent drinking can lead to short-term and long-term memory loss, as well as difficulty forming new memories. Excessive alcohol consumption over a period of many years can also increase a person’s risk of Korsakoff syndrome, an extreme form of dementia. In the past, some scientists believed that occasional drinking could help to prevent cognitive decline, but that notion has fallen by the wayside in recent years.
People who have experienced bouts of depression in the middle of their lives have increased risk of developing dementia. Scientists are unsure of what exactly causes this connection, but it may carry over into a person’s latter years as well. There is a possibility that depression is a byproduct of dementia in the later stages of life rather than a risk factor, but it is undeniable that the two often go hand in hand. More research will be needed to determine the specific reasons for the connection between depression and dementia.
Caring for Yourself or Your Loved One
If you or someone you love have one or more of the risk factors outlined here, it is never too late to make changes to your lifestyle to help prevent the onset of dementia. However, there may come a time when your loved one needs full time care. Here at Lakeside Manor, we offer best in class Alzheimer’s Care in a cozy residential facility. Reach out to us today to learn more about what we have to offer and how we can help care your loved one.