Microscopy & Microtechniques

  • Which Lifestyle Factors Increase the Risk of Dementia?

Which Lifestyle Factors Increase the Risk of Dementia?

Aug 25 2020

A new study from University College London has revealed lifestyle factors could delay or prevent the onset of dementia by up to 40%. With around one in 14 adults over the age of 65 diagnosed with dementia, the condition is one of the most common health issues in the UK. By 2040, the NHS estimated there will be more than 1.2 million British adults living with dementia.

While some forms of dementia are hereditary, experts at University College London say factors such as excessive drinking, head injuries and exposure to air pollution can have a significant impact on the development of symptoms. “Dementia is potentially preventable – you can do things to reduce your risk of dementia, whatever stage of life you are at,” says co-author of the report Gill Livingston, a Professor of Psychiatry of Older People at University College London.

Lifestyle habits could delay or prevent 40% of dementia cases

According to Livingston and her team, up to 40% of global dementia cases could be delayed or prevented by adopting healthier lifestyle habits. The report explored 12 factors, with the findings published in high-profile general medical journal, The Lancet.

Drawing mostly on data from high-income countries such as the UK, the research suggests 3% of dementia cases are caused by mid-life head injuries. 2% are a result of ongoing air pollution exposure and 1% are caused by extreme mid-life alcohol intake. Other factors explored in the report include smoking, hearing loss and lack of childhood education.

Experts call for “ambitious” and “preventative” policymaking

To address the issue and help develop intervention strategies, Livingston says government-led change is key. She commended a recent campaign launched by Boris Johnson to tackle obesity and boost public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. As well as reducing death rates, Livingston says the campaign could also help address obesity, one of the major risk factors for dementia.

Livingston also refers to falling dementia rates in developed countries, where people have more autonomy over the lifestyles and environments. “I don’t think it is any coincidence that the reductions in dementia prevalence to date have been in high-income, highly educated people who have more control over their environment,” she says. “We are expecting by 2050 that two-thirds of people with dementia, if trajectories continue, will be in low-income countries.”

Moving forward, Livingston and the team are urging policymakers to take a proactive approach to dementia prevention. “Our new life-course model and evidence synthesis has paramount worldwide policy implications. It is never too early and never too late in the life course for dementia prevention,” reads the executive summary published in The Lancet.

To find out more about how health experts are working to detect the disorder in its earliest stages and develop effective treatments, don’t miss ‘Tackling Dementia with Cutting-Edge Brain Imaging Technology.’


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