Do you know what your risks of dementia are?
Dementia is a serious health concern in Australia. It’s the second leading cause of death for both men and women, and over 425,000 people are currently living with the condition, and accounts for the single largest cause of disability in the country.
Unfortunately, there is no cure or sure way to prevent dementia – however, understanding your risk potential for dementia, and practicing a brain-healthy lifestyle, might be able to reduce the risk of developing dementia, or lessen the severity of dementia later on.
What is dementia?
Dementia isn’t a singular disease – the term refers to the collective symptoms caused by disorders of the brain. Common dementias include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Dementia with Lewy bodies.
The condition can impact an individuals’ physical, emotional and intellectual capacity, and make day-today functions an impossibility.
What are the risk factors of dementia?
Developing dementia is always a possibility – however, there are certain lifestyle and genetic factors that increase the chances of developing dementia.
Ageing is an unfortunate inevitability. Once past the age of 65, the risk of developing dementia doubles every five years, and might be because of the side-effects of the ageing process, like:
- Heightened blood pressure
- Higher prevalence of stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions
- Deterioration of cell structure, nerve cells, DNA and immune system
However, this doesn’t mean that dementia only affects elderly Australians – younger onset dementia, or early onset dementia, are cases where the condition has been diagnosed in people under 65. In some cases, it’s affected individuals in their 30’s.
Those living with diabetes have an increased chance of developing dementia than those who don’t. In the case of those living with type 1, the chances are increased by 10%, while those with type 2 have an increased chance of 20%.
While there’s been no definitive link made between the two conditions, it’s believed that:
- High blood glucose levels can damage blood cells and blood vessels in the brain
- Damage to brain blood vessels can restrict the brain of oxygen and nutrients
- Higher levels of insulin can damage blood cells and blood vessels in the brain
- There could be a link between diabetes and a build-up of proteins in the brain that’s been associated with Alzheimer’s disease
Women and men develop dementia at roughly the same rate, with the exception being Alzheimer’s disease (with women at higher risk) and vascular dementia (with men at higher risk).
Reasons for the former aren’t yet known – even when accounting for the generally longer lifespan of women to men, they are still more likely of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The latter can be explained by men’s increased chances of both stroke and heart disease, which in turn may be linked to men’s overconsumption of salt.
Family history and genetics
How family history and genetics impacts your risks of developing dementia are complex. The history of your family’s diet, attitudes to exercise, general mental wellbeing, and so on, can be as instrumental in the development of dementia as genes that are correlated with its development. Currently, there are more than 20 genes associated with the development of dementia.
Smoking – whether it’s tobacco, vape juice/ELiquid, or molasses sugar on a shisha – harms your lungs, heart and blood cells. In turn, this can damage blood vessels and cells in your brain, which may increase your risk of developing dementia.
Excessive consumption of alcohol
The unhealthy consumption of alcohol – more than 6 standard drinks per day for men and 4 for women – can increase the chances of dementia; specifically, alcohol related dementia.
Korsakoff’s syndrome is a form of alcohol related dementia that is caused by a lack of thiamine – a vitamin that the brain uses to produce energy from sugar.
What to if you think you’re high-risk for dementia
Check in with your local GP or specialist to discuss your concerns and possible health strategies. In the meantime, you can start leading a brain-healthy lifestyle:
Dementia Australia – Dementia and Diabetes
Healthline – Risk Factors for Dementia
Alzheimer’s Society – Risk factors for dementia
Australian Government Department of Health
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies.