Combing Research for New List of Dementia Risk Factors

Using the latest information from clinical trials and relevant studies, U.K. researchers have created an infographic that shows what factors do and don’t reduce the risk of dementia.

Among the findings from the latest research are that eating lots of fatty foods and living in a polluted area may increase dementia risk, whereas regular exercise and keeping cholesterol at healthy levels may lower risk.

According to Dr. Ruth Peters, a neuropsychologist from Imperial College London, “The evidence is increasingly suggesting that keeping a healthy blood circulation throughout the body is crucial for lowering dementia risk — in other words, what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”

A healthy heart, arteries, and veins ensures the brain receives an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients, which keeps our neurons functioning properly.

Dementia affects more that 47 million people worldwide. The condition is associated with growing older and, as such, is on the uptick driven by aging baby boomers.

Memory loss is a prominent feature of dementia; Alzheimer’s is the most common type. Today in the U.S., researchers estimate that at least one in three seniors will die with dementia.

Given the escalation of the disease, scientists are urgently trying to find why the disease affects some but not others. To this end, has developed a list of modifiable factors such as weight, blood pressure, and alcohol intake.

Peters’ current work is investigating whether any particular blood pressure medications seem to improve cognitive function. Her most recent research, published in the journal Current Hypertensive Reports, found that no type of medicine seems to work better than another.

“Previous work has suggested a type of blood pressure medication called calcium channel blockers may improve cognitive function, though the latest findings don’t suggest this,” said Dr Peters.

“There are still large gaps in our knowledge when it comes to dementia risk, which scientists are working hard to fill — but in the meantime keeping yourself fit, active, and healthy will keep your brain — and body — in good shape.”

According to Peters’ co-author, Professor Kaarin J. Anstey, Director of the Centre for Research on Ageing at Australian National University, “Keeping healthy in middle age is important for brain ageing and reducing risk of dementia in old age, but it’s never too early or too late to take steps to reduce your risk.

These factors may increase risk 

  • Excess alcohol: regular drinking above the NHS recommended levels increases your risk. Advice: drink within current recommended guidelines.
  • Poor diet: unhealthy eating habits can affect your risk of developing dementia. Advice: eat a balanced diet.
  • Smoking: smokers have a higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. Advice: stop smoking or don’t start.
  • Unhealthy weight: being overweight or obese is likely to increase your risk. However, the evidence is less clear in the over-65 age group. Advice: maintain a healthy weight.
  • High blood pressure: high blood pressure increases your risk. Advice: take prescribed medication and maintain a healthy weight.
  • High cholesterol: high cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of dementia. However, the evidence is less clear in the over-65 age group. Advice: follow a healthy diet and adhere to any treatment recommended by your GP.
  • Diabetes: Type II diabetes is associated with increased risk of dementia. Advice: follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Adhere to any treatment recommended by your GP.
  • Stroke: stroke causes damage within the brain and increases dementia risk. Advice: follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Adhere to any treatment recommended by your GP.
  • Air pollution: air pollution increases risk of having a stroke and may increase risk of dementia. However, scientists say more evidence is needed.

These factors may reduce risk

  • Physical activity: physical activity and exercise might help reduce risk of dementia. Advice: carry out a mixture of activities, as recommended by health professionals.
  • Caffeine: some researchers think moderate amounts of caffeine may help protect against dementia.
  • Social engagement: some researchers think keeping contact with friends and joining in activities may help protect against dementia. However, scientists say we need more studies in this area.
  • Brain training: brain training may hold benefits. It can help with daily tasks, such as remembering shopping lists, and may also reduce dementia risk.

Source: Imperial College London