Dementia can be described as the decline in mental ability that affects your daily activities. Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty thinking
- memory loss
- difficulty communicating
- difficulty with coordination and motor functions
- general confusion and disorientation
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Several factors can affect your risk for developing dementia. While some factors such as genetics cannot be changed, you can adjust some of these factors, such as smoking.
Note that risk factor isn’t a cause. For instance, diabetes is a risk factor for both Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and vascular dementia, but that doesn’t mean it causes both. Not all people with diabetes develop dementia.
Medical risk factors for dementia
Risk factors associated with dementia include the following:
Atherosclerosis is the thickening and hardening of artery walls due to accumulation of plaque. Plaque is made of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances in the blood. This buildup can cause your arteries to become narrow and obstruct flow of blood to your brain. This harms the ability of your brain cells to function efficiently. This can eventually lead to the death of these brain cells and their connections to other brain cells.
Your risk of developing vascular dementia is high if you have a high level of LDL cholesterol. This may be due to the link between atherosclerosis and high cholesterol.
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Diabetes may be linked with an increased risk of developing both AD and vascular dementia. Diabetes is also a risk factor for atherosclerosis and stroke. Both of these can contribute to dementia.
Homocysteine, an amino acid, naturally circulates in your blood, causing a building block of protein. A high level of homocysteine is a risk factor for a number of diseases, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
MCI is a stage between normal forgetfulness and dementia. Most people with MCI do not develop Alzheimer’s. But most cases of Alzheimer’s start with MCI. Symptoms for MCI include:
- memory loss greater than expected for your age
- memory deficiency is great enough to be noticed and measured
- continued independence because the deficiency isn’t enough to compromise your ability to care of yourself and conduct normal activities
Psychological and experiential factors
Psychological factors may be a risk factor for dementia. People who tend to socially isolate themselves or don’t regularly engage in cognitively stimulating activities, may be at an increased risk of developing AD.
By middle age, most people with Down syndrome have the plaques and knots of Alzheimer’s disease. Many also develop dementia.
Genetic and lifestyle risk factors for dementia
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and several other dementias increases with age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s in United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Many forms of dementia have a genetic component and it often runs in families. Certain mutations in specific genes have been identified as increasing the risk for developing dementia.
A study in the JAMA Neurology journal discovered that smoking may pointedly increase your risk of mental decline and dementia. If you smoke, you have a higher risk of atherosclerosis and other types of vascular disease. These diseases may contribute to the increased risk of dementia.
Drinking alcohol excessively also increases your risk of developing a type of dementia known as Korsakoff syndrome. Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include:
- difficulty learning new information
- short-term memory loss
- long-term memory gaps
From the above factors, see your doctor if you have a high risk for developing dementia, about how you can prevent it and any lifestyle changes that may help.