Health And Lifestyle For The Over 50s

Risk Factors For Developing Dementia

Dementia tree diagram

Dementia is one of the biggest challenges we face globally with around 55 million people living with the disease worldwide according to the World Health Organisation. This is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.

Additionally, studies show that dementia is now the most feared disease for the over 55 age group. Previously cancer took this title but advances in screening, surgery and drug therapies have changed the outlook for patients with cancer, leaving the outlook for dementia trailing behind.

There are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million people in the UK living with dementia in 2040. However, due to the gradual nature of dementia, the mild early stage symptoms and the low diagnosis rate, this figure could be higher as it is difficult to know the exact number of people living with the condition.

Although current therapies and drugs can only slow the progression of the disease and alleviate the symptoms, scientists are optimistic that new treatments will be developed within five years which will either halt or reverse dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia affecting more than 520,000 people in Britain.

In 2021 more than 6 million Americans now have Alzheimers’ according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Almost two thirds of Americans with the disease are women.

The disease is thought to result in a loss of connections between cells in the brain due to the build up of abnormal amyloid and tau proteins. A further 150,000 people in the UK have vascular dementia. In this form of dementia the brain cells die due to a restriction in their blood supply. This can be caused by a stroke or diseased blood vessels in the brain.

Tuesday 21st September 2021 is World Alzheimer’s Day. This international campaign aims to raise awareness and highlight issues faced by people affected by dementia. One of the most important things is to be aware of the early signs and symptoms of the disease:

Possible symptoms of dementia

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Personality changes
  • Mood changes
  • Disorientation often with familiar things and places
  • Poor judgement often placing themselves in danger
  • Misplacing things
  • Loss of motivation and initiative
  • Losing interest in personal hygiene and care
  • Problems communicating with others


The Alzheimer’s Association has put together a document “Know the 10 signs” listing real life examples of how this type of dementia can affect people. You can access the document by clicking on the following link:

Alzheimers word cloud

What are the causes and risk factors involved in the onset of dementia?

Researchers have discovered some important factors that affect our risk of developing dementia. Our risk of developing the disease depends upon a combination of these. Some of them, such as our age and genes, cannot be controlled. Others can be controlled, for example, by changing our lifestyle.

  • Genetics and family history – A family history of Alzheimer’s means that you are more at risk, with some studies suggesting that your overall risk is increased five or six fold if you have a parent or sibling with the disease.
  • Age – Dementia typically starts after the age of 65 and the risk increases with age. One in six 80 year olds are affected. As we get older the brain’s agility decreases and its connections become less strong.
  • Obesity – One theory is that excess fat releases harmful hormones that are damaging to brain cells. Being overweight also tends to be accompanied by high blood pressure, cholesterol and furring up of arteries, raising the risk of vascular dementia.
  • Diabetes – Type 2 diabetes raises the risk of dementia. High blood sugar damages the tiny blood vessels in the brain which raises the risk of stroke and vascular dementia. It also causes inflammation which may increase the deposits of amyloid plaques and tau.
  • Exercise – Exercise is vital and hundreds of studies support this. It increases blood supply to the brain and lowers the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. It also helps mood which has a positive effect on cognition.
  • Smoking – Smoking may increase your risk of developing dementia and other vascular diseases.
  • Blood pressure – High blood pressure is a significant risk factor as it can cause a stroke, or lead to inflammation which may contribute to the build up of amyloid plaques.
  • Stress – Chronic stress raises the level of the hormone cortisol. There are cortisol receptors in the regions of the brain important for learning and memory. If cortisol levels remain high, these receptors become saturated thus damaging brain cells.
  • Depression – Although not yet well understood, late-life depression, especially in men, may be a risk factor or an indication of the development of dementia.
  • High oestrogen levels – Women taking oestrogen and progesterone years after the menopause may be at greater risk of developing the disease.
  • Heavy alcohol intake – While some studies show that a moderate amount of alcohol, particularly red wine, may be beneficial for health, binge drinking or heavy drinking have been linked to an increased risk of developing the disease.


“Dementia is not inevitable,” says Dr Naji Tabet, a leading dementia specialist and senior lecturer at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

“We think that in a quarter of patients destined to develop the most common causes of dementia – including many of those with a family susceptibility – it can be stopped or significantly delayed. It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about what you could do to protect yourself.”

For further reading on how you can reduce your risk of developing dementia, please click on the link to take you to the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK.

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