Early Onset Dementia
Early onset dementia has been on the rise and researchers have now identified 15 risk factors for this progressive neurodegenerative disease. Early onset dementia is described as dementia striking before age 65. Dementia is devastating but especially when the onset strikes at earlier ages to people who are still working, are leading an active life, and have children still dependent on them.
Previous research on early onset dementia focused on genetics passed down from one generation to another. A new study, however, out of England looked at various modifiable and non-modifiable factors and discovered 15 that were significantly associated with increasing dementia at younger ages. Many of the risk factors are lifestyle related. The study analyzed data on 356,052 participants under age 65 from the UK Bioban.
Risk Factors for Early Onset Dementia
The 15 risk factors strongly associated with early onset dementia include:
- lower formal education
- lower socioeconomic status
- two copies of the APOE4 gene
- alcohol use disorder
- social isolation
- vitamin D deficiency
- high C-reactive protein levels
- lower handgrip strength
- no alcohol use
- hearing impairment
- heart disease
- orthostatic hypotension
Some of these risk factors share some interdependency. For instance, someone with alcohol abuse disorder may be malnourished and have low vitamin D. Or, they may have diabetes, heart disease, and elevated C-reactive protein which are interrelated. Individuals who are socially isolated are more apt to have depression. The presence of two copies (one from each parent) of the APOE4 gene is a non-modifiable risk factor. About 25% of the population carries at least on copy of the gene. The risk of Alzheimers rises 12 fold in those who have two copies of the gene.
To be clear this was an observational study and does draw cause and effect conclusions. There is simply an association with these risk factors and early onset dementia. One risk factor discovered that is difficult to explain is the “no alcohol use” association.
How to Avoid Dementia
According to the CDC about 40% of all cases of dementia can be prevented or delayed by modifying known lifestyle risk factors like diabetes and heart disease. Also, cognitive stimulation including formal education, attending educational seminars, learning new languages, dancing, and music can help reduce the incidence of dementia.
It is also felt that sitting less and being more active reduces the risk of dementia. Exercise is know to improve brain blood flow and stimulate neurogenesis (development of neural pathways) and improves mood. Stress reduction and mood stimulation through mindfulness may reduce dementia risk as well.
If you have any of the above risk factors for early onset dementia take steps now to alter those risk factors. This is especially true if there is a family history of early onset dementia.