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This One Thing Can Put You in Danger of Dementia, New Study Finds

A new study says women should be alert for this symptom.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
Senior lady receiving bad news about her blood pressure from her doctor

There's a lot that experts don't know about dementia: why it occurs in some older people and not others, for example. And there is no cure for the progressive condition. But scientists are learning more about risk factors, and a new study suggests that one—hypertension, or high blood pressure—may increase the risk of dementia in women. 

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1

What is Dementia and Should You Be Worried

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Dementia is an umbrella term for many disorders that can cause changes to memory, thinking, and personality that interfere with a person's ability to function. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia; at least 5 million Americans are affected.

About 50 million people are living with dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to triple by 2050, as the population ages and people live longer. Keep reading to see if you have the risk factors.

RELATED: 9 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to Dementia, Say Experts

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What Are the Risk Factors for Dementia?

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According to the CDC, the risk factors for dementia include:

  • Age. This is the strongest risk factor. Mostly, people over age 65 are affected.
  • Family history.
  • Race/ethnicity. African Americans are twice as likely, and Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely, to develop dementia than white people.
  • Poor heart health, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
  • Traumatic brain injury.

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Study Has New Findings About Risk Factors—For Women

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In the new study, researchers from the George Institute for Global Health at the University of New South Wales in Newtown, Australia, looked at 502,226 people who were enrolled in a UK biomedical database between 2006 to 2010. When initially signed up, none of the subjects—average age 56.5—had dementia. Over the following 12 years, 4,068 of them developed dementia.

The scientists found that several previously known risk factors for dementia—smoking, diabetes, high body fat, and low socioeconomic status—affected risk equally for men and women.

But although more men than women developed dementia overall, experiencing hypertension seemed to increase the dementia risk for women, after other potential factors were accounted for.

"Our study suggests that a more individualized approach to treating blood pressure in men compared [with] women may result in even greater protection against the development of dementia," said Mark Woodward, a co-author of the study, which was published in the journal BMC Medicine.

4

You've Got to Stick to a Healthy Lifestyle

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The researchers noted that "cardiovascular risk factors are increasingly recognized as contributors to dementia," suggesting that it might be a vascular (related to the blood vessels) disease.

"Given the lack of proven pharmaceutical treatments for dementia, public health strategies to promote healthy lifestyles are important to reduce the burden of dementia," the researchers wrote. "Among trials aim to prevent cognitive decline or dementia, the strongest evidence lies in treating hypertension."

They added that poverty as a risk factor warrants additional study, and "randomized control trials of blood pressure lowering are necessary, to understand its role in attenuating cognitive decline, and such trials should include an equal number of women and men in order to clarify potential sex differences." And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.