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What Increases Your Odds of Dementia?

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonDecember 26, 2012

We all know age and genetics have a profound effect on whether someone develops dementia, but there are a lot of other risk factors we all need to know about.

Dementia Risk Factors
Dementia may seem like something frightening, difficult to understand, and impossible to prevent. But despite the things we can’t do anything about—our age, our DNA—there are a number of things we can do to help ward off the onset of dementia. Making sure to eat a nutritious diet, live a healthy lifestyle, get enough exercise—both physical and mental—and fitting in some social activity all provide some protection against Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. And, of course, we can inform ourselves about the risk factors for mental decline so that we and our loved ones can take the right steps to prevent or mitigate it.

Age and Genetics: The Factors You Can’t Control

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the greatest known risk factor for developing dementia is the simple, unavoidable fact of getting older. Scientists don’t yet know exactly why, but the risk of Alzheimer’s rises dramatically as we age, doubling roughly every 5 years after we turn 65. The other risk factor we can’t control is our genetics. A family history of dementia can point to a shared gene that causes or increases the likelihood of dementia.

Physical Risk Factors for Dementia

A healthy exercise plan and a less-sedentary lifestyle are good for our bodies, but they’re also definite pluses when it comes to staying at the top of our mental game. In fact, scientists have identified specific physical indicators that are associated with dementia, including:

  • lack of physical exercise — a recent study at UCLA found that those who got more exercise had a higher volume of gray matter than those who were minimally active.
  • poor performance on physical tasks — slow gait, impaired balance, and low grip strength were associated with increased odds of dementia, according to researchers at UC Irvine.

Psychological Risk Factors for Dementia

Psychological indicators for developing dementia are a lot less clear-cut than genetic, physical, or other health factors. Scientists have found that late-life depression is linked to developing Alzheimer’s-related dementia, reports the Mayo Clinic, and a new study from the Netherlands has linked feelings of loneliness to dementia risk.

Health Risk Factors for Dementia

A healthy lifestyle may be one of the most important changes we can make that has a measurable effect on our cognitive health. Best of all, like physical activity, it’s largely under our control. Among the health risk factors that are associated with dementia are:

  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Atherosclerosis, or buildup in and on your artery walls
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

Taking steps to improve cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, prevent diabetes, and avoid tobacco and alcohol can help eliminate some of the odds of developing dementia.

What positive lifestyle changes have you or your loved ones made to prevent or slow the development of dementia? Let us know in the comments.

Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson
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