Worried about dementia? Research identifies 12 ways to reduce risk

Aug 02, 2020
The number of people living with dementia globally is rising. Source: Getty.

Almost half a million Australians are currently living with dementia, and the number of cases is steadily rising as people live longer, healthier lives.

Dementia is not one specific disease, but describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It can affect thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. However new research has identified 12 risk factors which hold the potential to significantly delay or prevent around 40 per cent of all cases.

According to new research published in The Lancet this week, three new risk factors have been revealed, with experts suggesting there are modifiable life aspects that could potentially reduce an individual’s risk of developing the condition. Excessive consumption of alcohol, traumatic brain injury and air pollution are the most recently identified risk factors, with heavy drinking (of more than 21 units per week) associated with an increased dementia risk.

This means there are now 12 risk factors associated with almost half of all dementia cases worldwide. These risk factors are: lack of education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, low social contact, excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury and air pollution.

The Lancet Commission also found that simply wearing hearing aids, when hearing loss first occurs, could lower a person’s dementia risk by as much as 40 per cent.

“We recommend keeping cognitively, physically, and socially active in midlife and later life although little evidence exists for any single specific activity protecting against dementia,” the research states. “Using hearing aids appears to reduce the excess risk from hearing loss.

“Sustained exercise in midlife, and possibly later life, protects from dementia, perhaps through decreasing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular risk. Depression might be a risk for dementia, but in later life dementia might cause depression. Although behaviour change is difficult and some associations might not be purely causal, individuals have a huge potential to reduce their dementia risk.”

Earlier this year, new research from Melbourne’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute found Australians living with type 2 diabetes were 60 per cent more likely to develop dementia, and twice as likely to develop some types of cancer, than those without the condition. Around 1.3 million Australians are currently living with type 2 diabetes.

As part of the analysis titled ‘The Dark Shadow of Type 2 Diabetes’, researchers examined the health outcomes of more than 2 million people diagnosed with the condition. The report’s lead author Professor Jonathan Shaw said having diabetes increased the risk of various other diseases.

Besides dementia, Shaw said those living with type 2 diabetes were two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and twice as likely to develop liver or endometrial cancer. They also had a 50 per cent higher chance of getting bowel cancer and a 20 per cent greater risk of breast cancer.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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