New Study Finds that Social Isolation, Depression, Alcoholism, and More Increase Risk of Early-Onset Dementia.
In a groundbreaking new study published in JAMA Neurology, loneliness, alcohol abuse disorder, vitamin D deficiency, low socioeconomic status, and other health and lifestyle factors are associated with an increased risk of early- or young-onset dementia. This is the first time that researchers have identified 15 key risk factors that significantly increase a person’s chance of developing early-onset dementia. These key risk factors include gene variations, environmental influences, and social conditions. This critical study helps lay the groundwork for new prevention strategies, especially since four in 10 dementia cases worldwide are linked to these factors.
More than 350,000 participants under age 65 were followed by researchers from the University of Exeter and Maastricht University to understand the risks of early dementia. One of the study’s co-authors explains that “the most important finding was that a wide range of modifiable risk factors appear to be important, not just genetics.”
In the study, 39 potential risk factors believed to be associated with early-onset dementia were investigated. Of these 39 risk factors, 15 were identified as significantly associated with a higher risk of early-onset dementia.
The 15 risk factors for Early-onset Dementia are:
• Lower formal education
• Lower socioeconomic status
• Social isolation
• Alcohol use disorder
• No alcohol use (abstinence)
• Carrying two copies of the APOE gene
• Hearing impairment
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Lower handgrip strength (physical frailty)
• High C-reactive protein levels
• Heart disease
• Orthostatic hypotension
It is important to note that the 15 identified risk factors varied in importance, but more research is needed to determine their rank. Interestingly, alcohol use disorder and abstinence are both on the list. People diagnosed with alcohol use disorder had a higher risk of early-onset dementia. Surprisingly, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of early-onset dementia compared to abstinence. This could be related to “healthy drinkers” being less likely to have poorer health.
Another interesting finding is the impact that poor mental health has on increasing the risk for early-onset dementia. Chronic stress, depression, and social isolation are associated with early-onset dementia. Regarding social isolation, researchers identified that participants who saw their friends or family once a month or less were at higher risk for developing early-onset dementia. These findings could be related to a link between cognitive reserve and isolation.
Researchers concluded that “staying physically, mentally, and socially active may help protect the brain as we age.” One author states, “We can be hopeful that a wide range of modifiable risk factors appear important; thus, we can be hopeful that dementia can be delayed or even prevented.”
Connection Between Lifestyle and Dementia
By prioritizing healthy aging, we can reduce the risk of dementia. Some examples include increasing physical exercise, eating a healthy diet such as the MIND diet, not smoking, and limiting excessive drinking. Other prevention strategies include:
• Prevent and manage high blood pressure
• Maintain a healthy blood sugar
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Prevent and correct hearing loss
• Prioritize sleep
The MIND Diet
The MIND diet was designed to reduce the loss of brain function and the risk of dementia as we age. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It combines elements of the DASH diet, which is used to help reduce hypertension, and the Mediterranean diet to create a dietary pattern that nourishes the brain. Experts chose these two diets because they are regarded as the two healthiest diets by many and have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases. The MIND diet contains foods rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, and specific vitamins that are thought to help protect the brain.
For More Support
If you or someone you care about has dementia, is looking for more support, or needs professional guidance, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn how our compassionate team of clinical experts can help you get the support you need and help you navigate care needs.
Hendriks S, Ranson JM, Peetoom K, Lourida I, Tai XY, de Vugt M, Llewellyn DJ, Köhler S.Risk Factors for Young-Onset Dementia in the UK Biobank. JAMA Neurol. 2023 Dec 26; PubMed.
MIND diet may reduce the risk of dementia. (2023, May 16). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/mind-diet-may-reduce-risk-of-dementia/