Dementia: the three biggest risk factors that can be avoided


The scientist who led a recent study found inadequate education, hearing loss and smoking to be the most important preventable risk factors for dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) partnered with the Lancet Commission to establish 12 factors based on evidence that, if removed, could prevent or postpone 40 percent of all dementias.

Of these, half accounted for hearing loss, poor education and smoking.

Overall, nine potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, which include high blood pressure, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes and low social interaction, are confirmed by a growing body of evidence.

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The researchers say that they can now add three others for which recent, persuasive evidence exists: consumption of alcohol, traumatic brain injury and air pollution.

Professor Gill Livingston of University College London, who contributed to the research – Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Treatment – warned of a rise in media headlines on ‘clickbait medicine’ claiming that single foods or supplements can prevent the disease.

She said, “Sometimes it seems that the media wants everything in the world to be labeled as either preventing or causing dementia.”

The proof is that it doesn’t support dementia to take individual vitamins, there are a whole lot of research and it doesn’t even seem to make a difference at all.

That’s really significant, I think, because they’re being sold to individuals as something that can really make a difference.

Pressure on care facilities accounted for a 75% rise in women dying at home with dementia.

Although I don’t think they’re doing any harm – they’re obviously not being eaten in adequate doses – they’re not making a difference either. What we did was look at the amount of dementia that, if the risk factor vanished, could be eliminated.

Hearing loss, followed by low level of education, followed by cigarette smoking, are the three that account for the most. These 12 risk factors account for 40 percent of the overall risk of dementia, but 20 percent, half of those three.

“With all of those 12 items, we have really strong proof. There are other things that we think may be helping, but we don’t have that much evidence to consider.

“In general, people who eat a Mediterranean diet – lots of fruit and vegetables and fish and not lots of meat and butter – do better, but that’s because they can afford to eat a Mediterranean diet.”

Originally from Glasgow, Professor Livingston said Scotland was ahead of England in understanding the dangers of children going for football. In February, the SFA (Scottish Football Association) implemented a ban on headers for kids under 12.

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A research by the University of Glasgow found that former footballers were around three and a half times more likely than the general population to die from a neurodegenerative disease.

The SFA is ahead of anyone else, she said, but I think they should try making it a little older than under the age of twelve.

“In recent days, there has been a lot of debate about rugby. There is no doubt, I suppose, that head injuries lead to an excess of dementia.

It makes sense that heading a ball could raise the risk of head injury, which is a very big thing for a kid to do, but it’s really hard to find evidence for that because people don’t come to the casualty department.

“It’s perfectly nice to play rugby and other sports. In terms of dementia, it helps, but we shouldn’t encourage kids to have head footballs.

The report calls for policymakers to prioritize childhood education and suggests that reducing unhealthy drinking could potentially minimize dementia at an early age and later in life, while the use of hearing aids could reduce the risks.

The researchers claim that secondhand smoke is a less obvious modifiable risk factor and that improvements in air quality should be a priority, particularly in areas with high air pollution.


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