Scientists have compiled a list of risk factors for dementia and developed a tool that can “strongly predict” whether a person will develop the disease within the next 14 years.
Experts from the University of Oxford have compiled a list of 11 factors to assess with good accuracy whether or not middle-aged people will develop this disease.
They looked at data from more than 200,000 people aged 50 to 73 taking part in two large, long-term UK studies.
The researchers listed 28 known dementia risk factors and then narrowed them down to the 11 strongest predictors.
Factors include age, education, history of diabetes, history of depression, history of stroke, parental history of dementia, levels of deprivation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol , living alone and being a man.
Scientists have compiled a list of risk factors for developing dementia later in life, one of them being living alone (file photo)
The team also looked at these risk factors as well as whether or not people carried a specific gene – the APOE gene – which is also linked to dementia.
Together these were used to develop the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS) – APOE tool.
They found the tool produced the highest predictive score for people who developed dementia over the 14 years of the study.
For example, an older man with a history of diabetes, who lives alone, has high blood pressure, and carries the APOE gene, would have a higher risk score than a younger woman with none of the other listed risk factors.
The authors said the assessment “significantly outperforms” other similar risk assessment tools currently available.
In addition to identifying those at risk, these tools can also highlight preventative measures people can take while they still can.
The academics point to previous work which suggests that up to 40 percent of dementia cases could be prevented by making changes to certain lifestyle factors, including quitting smoking, reducing high blood pressure, losing weight and reducing alcohol consumption.
They suggest that the new tool could, in the future, be used as an initial screening tool for dementia to classify people into “risk groups”.
Those who return with a high likelihood of developing dementia, based on the risk score, could be prioritized for further testing, including cognitive assessments, brain scans and blood tests.
Associate Professor Sana Suri, co-lead author from the University of Oxford, said: “It is important to remember that this risk score only tells us about our chances of developing dementia; this does not represent a definitive result.
“The importance of each risk factor varies and since some of the factors included in the score can be changed or treated, there are things we can all do to help reduce our risk of dementia.
“Although advanced age – 60 and over – and APOE confer the greatest risk, modifiable factors, such as diabetes, depression and high blood pressure, also play a key role.”
“For example, the estimated risk for someone with all of these will be about three times higher than for someone of the same age who has none.”