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Dementia Risks You've Never Heard Of, Say Experts

You may be compromising your brain health without knowing it.

Dementia is a progressive brain disorder that can affect a person's cognition, judgment, and, ultimately, their ability to live an independent life. Experts say the biggest risks for dementia are simply getting older—most people with dementia are diagnosed after age 60—and a family history of the disease. But scientists have recently learned more about potential risk factors for dementia, and some of those might surprise you. These are five dementia risks you may not know about. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


Tooth Loss

Woman Suffering From Painful Toothache

A study published this month in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine found that the more teeth a person had lost, the greater their risk of developing dementia or cognitive decline. Researchers analyzed multiple studies involving 34,074 people and determined that tooth loss was associated with a 1.48 times greater risk of cognitive decline and a 1.28 times greater risk of dementia. For every tooth lost, a person had a 1.1% greater risk of developing dementia and a 1.4% greater risk of experiencing cognitive decline. The scientists said they don't know what the causal relationship is between lost teeth and brain issues: It might involve nutrition, exposure to oral bacteria or socioeconomic status.


Poor Sleep

Middle aged woman lying awake in her bed at night, worrying because of an uncomfortable pressure in her chest and an irregular heartbeat

A study published this spring in the journal Nature Communications found that people over 50 who sleep less than six hours a night are 30% more likely to develop dementia in their later years. "Persistent short sleep duration at age 50, 60, and 70 compared to persistent normal sleep duration was also associated with a 30% increased dementia risk independently of sociodemographic, behavioral, cardiometabolic, and mental health factors," the researchers wrote. "These findings suggest that short sleep duration in midlife is associated with an increased risk of late-onset dementia." How much quality sleep should you be getting? Experts say the magic number is seven to nine hours a night. If you're not getting there regularly, your doctor can help. 

RELATED: Sure Signs You May Have Dementia, According to the CDC


Hearing Loss

sad senior listening, old man hearing concept of deafness or hard of hearing

A recent study found that older adults who start losing both vision and hearing are twice as likely to develop dementia as people with only one or neither impairment, says Dr. Hope Lanter, lead audiologist at in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Hearing loss can be an early sign of many conditions, including dementia," she adds. "So proper hearing care is a vital component to a healthy life, and there are ways to help lessen the risk of losing your hearing." To protect your ears, limit or avoid noise exposure, and get your hearing tested regularly.



Mature woman with sore throat, standing in living room at home.

What does inhaling tobacco smoke have to do with brain health? Plenty. "Among the many health reasons smoking is bad for your body is that it can hinder brain function," says Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who focuses on treating patients with memory problems, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. "One study proved that smoking just one cigarette a day for an extended period can reduce cognitive ability, and smoking 15 cigarettes daily hinders critical thinking and memory by almost 2 percent. When you stop smoking, your brain benefits from increased circulation almost instantly."

RELATED: The Easiest Way to Look Younger, Says Science


An Unhealthy Lifestyle

Tired senior hispanic man sleeping on dark blue couch, taking afternoon nap at the living room

A study published last month in PLOS Medicine found that a healthy lifestyle—meaning one that follows recommendations about smoking, alcohol consumption, weight, diet and exercise—can lower your risk of cognitive impairment by 55%. And that was true even among people who have an increased genetic risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease."Our results, corroborated by other interventional studies on lifestyle modification and cognitive function, support the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout the life course, even among the oldest old," the researchers wrote. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael