A recent study conducted by the University of Exeter and Maastricht University, published in JAMA Neurology, has shed light on some of the factors that can contribute to early cases of dementia. The study focused on young-onset dementia, which occurs before the age of 65, and analyzed the behaviors of over 350,000 participants in the United Kingdom. The researchers identified 15 common issues that are associated with the early development of the condition. While some of these factors, such as genetics and socioeconomic status, are beyond our control, many others can be modified through lifestyle changes.
The study is particularly significant because it examines risk factors for young-onset dementia in a way that has only been done previously for late-onset dementias. The researchers followed a large sample of participants from a healthy baseline to a dementia diagnosis, collecting extensive data along the way.
Among the 15 identified risk factors are social isolation, lower formal education, lower socioeconomic status, carrying two copies of the APOE gene, vitamin D deficiency, hearing impairment, alcohol use disorder, abstinence from alcohol, depression, high C-reactive protein levels, lower handgrip strength, orthostatic hypotension, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.
While some of these risks are beyond our control, others can be managed through lifestyle changes. According to Dr. Arman Fesharaki-Zadeh, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, there are three lifestyle measures that individuals can consider to lower their risk of young-onset dementia. First, engaging in regular physical exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits for neurocognitive function, neurogenesis, and vasculogenesis. Second, adopting a Mediterranean-based diet, which includes food groups rich in vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, can also be beneficial. Lastly, cognitive, mood, and social stimulation can help keep the mind sharp, whether through activities like learning a new language, practicing mindfulness and yoga for stress reduction, or maintaining quality social connections.
While these habits do not cover all the risk factors for dementia, they provide a solid starting point for individuals looking to reduce their risk of early-onset dementia.