Dementia exacts huge social and economic tolls on Americans
Adopting healthy lifestyle choices can help you avoid dementia
In 2017, the Lancet Commission in the UK published a report, “Dementia prevention, intervention, and care.” The report identified nine potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia. The risk factors included less education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, and low social connections. The Commission updated the report in 2020, adding three more potentially modifiable risk factors: excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury, and air pollution.
The 2020 Commission report calculated the population attributable fraction for eleven of the risk factors (data were not available for traumatic brain injury). Population attributable fraction refers to the proportion of dementia cases that could theoretically be prevented or delayed if a particular risk factor were eliminated. Collectively, the twelve risk factors could account for 40 percent of dementia cases globally. The top five risk factors included hearing impairment (8 percent), less education (7 percent), smoking (5 percent), depression (4 percent), and social isolation (4 percent). Healthy lifestyle choices and improved social and environmental policies could potentially lead to a major decline in the prevalence of dementia. Specifically, Keep Moving, Eat Better, Cultivate Social Connections, and Keep Learning may help you reduce your risk of dementia (and also improve your overall health and well-being).
Researchers use the presence of risk factors to quantify the likelihood of developing chronic conditions such as cognitive decline, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, considerable overlap exists among risk factors for the above three conditions. Commonly cited modifiable, behavioral risk factors include smoking, low physical activity, poor diet, excess alcohol intake, low social connections, and low cognitive engagement. The presence of these risk factors predicts greater prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which are themselves risk factors for other chronic illnesses.
A team of Australian, British, and Canadian researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 22 articles that evaluated links between the number of risk factors present in study participants and the risk of the participants developing cognitive decline and dementia. Relative to the presence of no risk factors, participants who exhibited one, two, and three risk factors had significant 20, 65, and 121 percent higher risks of developing dementia during follow-up. The fact that risk of dementia increased in a step-wise manner as the number of risk factors increased suggests a cause-and-effect relationship. Dementia exacts huge economic and social costs in the US. You can eliminate risk factors for dementia by adopting healthy lifestyle choices, including Keep Moving, Eat Better, Cultivate Social Connections, and Keep Learning. In so doing, you may greatly increase your risk of dementia and quality of life.