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Beyond Genetics: Can Dementia Be Prevented?

Our medical director Dr Ivan Koychev debunks some commonly held myths about dementia and ageing.

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Can Dementia Be Prevented?

Many of us believe that our risk for dementia is entirely determined by our genetics. In fact, our recently published study found that out of 551 individuals polled, only 66% were aware that it’s possible to reduce one’s risk for dementia, and only 31% believed it could be prevented.

The good news is, the reality is far more hopeful: from our diet and exercise habits to our level of social engagement and stress management, the choices we make every day can have a profound impact on our brain health. 

In this article, we’ll debunk some of the more popular myths around ageing and dementia. 

Is cognitive decline an inevitable part of ageing?

When people talk about cognitive decline, they are specifically referring to problems with memory, reasoning, attention and problem solving. 

Age might be the strongest known risk factor for cognitive decline, but dementia is not an inevitable consequence of getting older.

While it’s true that approximately 40% of individuals over the age of 60 will experience mild memory loss, this should not be severe enough to go beyond being a mild annoyance in their daily lives.

The World Health Organisation estimates that only a smaller proportion of people aged over 60 (specifically 5-8%) will develop dementia.

Isn’t dementia all in the genes?

In short, no. While many of us worry that having a relative with dementia means that we will also develop the condition, this is absolutely not a foregone conclusion. 

You’ll be intrigued to know that only some very rare types of dementia, such as young-onset Alzheimer's, have a strong genetic basis. 

So why, then, do we see dementia cases clustering in families? This is because while most people will not inherit specific genes for dementia, they may well inherit other genes that increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems - and these conditions all increase the risk for dementia. 

Fortunately, the likelihood and impact of these conditions can be vastly reduced by healthy habits, which is why positive lifestyle choices are so important.

In fact, lifestyle changes can prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases. 

This was the conclusion from a major 2020 report from world-leading experts at top medical journal The Lancet, which summed up the existing body of research on reducing the risk of dementia with encouraging results. 

Risk Factors for Dementia

The report estimated that 40% of all dementia cases can be prevented or delayed by addressing 12 "modifiable" risk factors, i.e. risk factors that are not set in stone. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • Hearing loss
  • Excessive drinking
  • Exposure to air pollution

You may have noticed, depending on your existing medical knowledge, that most of these risk factors are also implicated in heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

That means that by addressing these risk factors, you are likely to improve your overall physical and mental well-being.

We are here to help you defend against dementia! 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, make sure to download the Five Lives app today!

Our app is designed to help you check your brain health and improve vital lifestyle factors such as your physical activity level. 

We’ll coach you step-by-step in the five pillars of brain health: sleep, nutrition, mood and social, physical activity, and mental stimulation, to ensure you’re doing the most to protect your brain long term - both for yourself and for your loved ones. 

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