Scientists at Oxford University have developed a new dementia risk score that’s outperformed three other leading risk scores when it comes to predicting dementia.
This new score consists of 11 factors that you can use to lower the risk of dementia in middle age and the years beyond. Researchers say the score is so accurate that by addressing these risk factors we could potentially cut the number of dementia cases by a whopping 40 percent!
Let’s see how this new discovery can help you and those you love to achieve better protection against memory loss for years to come.
Medical scientists have tried to develop a dementia risk score that works similarly to the more familiar heart risk score, which estimates the chances of developing heart disease over the next ten years.
However, when it comes to memory loss, this hasn’t been an easy task.
Over the years researchers have developed many dementia-prediction models, but they’ve had limited success in consistently identifying at-risk individuals. This is because the models usually don’t consider that risk factors are different depending on a person’s age, geographical location, and other influences. Some models also rely on expensive and invasive tests, which will make them hard to use in primary care.
To come up with something more reliable and practical, the researchers focused on people in middle age and used an outside group for validating their research.
Uncovering 11 Risk Factors For Dementia
The research team used data on 20,762 men and women taken from the UK Biobank resource. The average age of participants was 60. To validate the model, they included 2,934 participants with an average age of 57 from the long running Whitehall II study which began in 1985.
From an initial 28 predictors of dementia, a statistical process was used to discard the least relevant factors. This left 11 risk factors as the strongest dementia predictors to be incorporated into the model, which was called the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS).
The eleven risk factors predictive for any type of dementia are:
- Years of education
- History of diabetes
- History of or current depression
- History of stroke
- Parental dementia
- Economic disadvantage
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Living alone (social isolation)
- Male gender
Men More At Risk Than Women
Predictors that didn’t make it into the top 11 included body mass index, hearing problems, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, sleep duration and fish consumption.
That men are at greater risk may come as a surprise since twice as many women live with Alzheimer’s, the main form of dementia, when compared to men. However, researchers believe that this is because women live longer, and old age is the single biggest risk factor for dementia.
This finding is supported by a recent study that included over half a million middle-aged men and women. After a follow up period of 11 years, women had a 17 percent lower risk of developing dementia than men!
Researchers didn’t stop there. They adapted their model to account for genetic risk.
New Model Outperforms All Others
Since the APOE gene is known to put people at greater risk of dementia, the team created a separate model called UKBDRS-APOE.
Within 14 years, 3,813 (nearly two percent) and 93 (just over three percent) participants developed dementia in the UK Biobank and Whitehall II groups, respectively.
The findings showed that either of these models outperformed another model that is based solely on age, as well as three additional widely used risk models. It’s important to point out that the two models could obviously be improved by including cognitive tests, a brain scan, and a blood test, but the idea was to create something that’s low-cost, easy to apply, and can be used as an initial screening tool.
Lead co-author Sana Suri explained, saying, “The importance of each risk factor varies and given that some of the factors included in the score can be modified or treated, there are things we can all do to help reduce our risk of dementia.
“While older age (60 and above) and APOE confer the greatest risk, modifiable factors, such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure also have a key role. For example, the estimated risk for a person with all of these will be approximately three times higher than that of a person of the same age who doesn’t have any.”
That bears repeating: If you’re over 60 with diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and you have a high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease you are at a THREE TIMES higher risk of the disease than a person of the same age who doesn’t have any risk factors.
If that’s you or a loved one it’s imperative to make important lifestyle changes right away to improve your blood sugar control, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your mental health. This begins with seeking professional help to better your mental health and continues with making healthier choices at the dinner table and starting a regular exercise program.
We’ve been saying it for years, but your lifestyle choices matter.
All hope is not lost if you have some or even all these 11 risk factors. And the research on the new dementia-prediction models proves it.
Of course, even though the UKBDRS and UKBDRS-APOE models are better than other already existing models, the authors acknowledge that there are limitations to them and they are not yet ready for use in clinical practice.
As lead co-author Dr. Raihaan Patel says: “It’s well known that dementia risk, onset, and prevalence vary by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Therefore, while the consistent performance of UKBDRS across these two independent groups boosts our confidence in its viability, we need to evaluate it across more diverse groups of people both within and beyond the UK.”
The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team