By Johns Hopkins Health Alerts; www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com  

Recent data from Scandinavian researchers suggest a way to predict dementia risk by looking at the synergistic effect of multiple risk factors.

An increasing amount of research is being directed at finding ways to prevent dementia. But even a treatment that simply delays the onset of dementia would represent an important step forward. Potential strategies for preventing or delaying dementia focus heavily on reducing cardiovascular risk factors but include other brain-protective lifestyle measures as well. The list includes lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing or controlling diabetes, consuming foods rich in antioxidants, getting regular exercise, staying mentally active, drinking alcohol only in moderation, restricting unhealthy fats and replacing them with healthy fats, and taking B vitamins.

While definitive strategies to prevent dementia are not yet available, for the first time researchers have developed a way to predict a person’s risk of developing dementia years before the disease takes hold.

In a study reported in the journal Lancet Neurology (Volume 5, page 735), Scandinavian researchers first studied 1,409 adults in midlife (their ages ranged from 39–64) and then re-examined them 20 years later for signs of dementia. Five factors -- increased age, less education, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity -- were found to increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.

In particular, the three cardiovascular risk factors emerged as strong predictors of dementia risk. Although having any one of the three doubled a person’s chance of developing dementia, having all three increased the risk by sixfold.

This approach -- looking at the synergistic effect of multiple risk factors -- has been used for other diseases, such as glaucoma and cardiovascular disease. But this is the first time it has been used for dementia. Thus, the results need to be validated in other studies. Moreover, there is no clear-cut guarantee that dementia can be entirely prevented, as genetics still plays a role and family history wasn’t included in the risk profile. Nevertheless, this study strongly supports the belief that aggressive treatment of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and obesity are the best approaches we have at present for preventing dementia.

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