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This Can Increase Your Dementia Risk "Significantly"

These 5 things can greatly increase the risk of dementia, doctor says.

Nearly 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year, according to the World Health Organization with "over 60% living in low- and middle-income countries. As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050." While there is no cure as of now medical experts can link certain habits, which can lead to dementia and Eat This, Not That! Health talked to Dr. Santoshi Billakota, MD, an Adult Neurologist Epileptologist and Clinical Assistant Professor within the Department of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine who explained factors that can increase your chances of dementia. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Not Getting Enough Sleep

man awake in the middle of the night
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Dr. Billakota says, "Several studies have shown that not getting 7-8 hours of sleep, especially in the middle of your life, can lead to dementia later on in life. Sleep is important for memory consolidation and overall brain health. There are many reasons for poor sleep in middle age: shift work, insomnia, caretaking, but changes to your habits might improve dementia risk."


Smoking and Alcohol Usage

drinking alcohol

If you're a heavy smoker and drinker, your risk of getting dementia increases drastically, according to Dr. Billakota.  "Several studies have found that smoking not only increases risk of atherosclerosis and other vascular diseases, but also significantly increases mental decline and dementia later in life. This is also the case with those who drink large amounts of alcohol. Low to moderate amounts of alcohol have not been particularly implicated in dementia."

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Previous Head Injuries

American football players carrying an injured teammate off the field during a practice session

Athletes and anyone who has suffered a traumatic head injury is also at a greater risk for dementia, Dr. Billakota states, "Studies have shown that there is a link to recurrent past head injuries (concussions etc) which can lead to encephalopathy and dementia in the future. This is why it protects your brain by using a seatbelt and helmet, especially while participating in contact sports."

According to the The Alzheimer's Association,  "Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, and falling poses an especially serious risk for older adults. According to a CDC special report analyzing data from several federal agencies, each year 56,000 seniors are hospitalized as a result of head injuries sustained in falls and 8,000 die as a result. When a senior sustains a serious traumatic brain injury in a fall, direct effects of the injury may result in long-term cognitive changes, reduced ability to function and changes in emotional health.

An estimated 775,000 older adults are living with traumatic brain injury-related disability. Measures to reduce the risk of falls include:

  • Using a walker or other assistive device to compensate for mobility problems, muscle weakness or poor balance.
  • Having your vision checked regularly and using glasses or contact lenses that correct for changes.
  • Working with your doctor to watch for medication side effects or interactions among drugs you're taking.
  • Avoiding household hazards, such as clutter, loose rugs or poor lighting.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are another common cause of traumatic brain injury. You can reduce your risk by keeping your vehicle in good repair, following the rules of the road and buckling your seatbelt. You can also protect your head by wearing a helmet and other protective equipment when biking, inline skating or playing contact sports."

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older man with dementia talking to doctor
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While dementia mostly affects people over the age of 65, early onset of the condition has appeared in some in their 30s, 40's and 50's. Dr. Billakota says, "The risk of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and several other dementias goes up significantly with increasing age." 

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Colorful DNA molecule

"There are a number of genes that increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. However, although this does increase risk, there are also many people with a positive family history who never develop the disease," Dr. Billakota explains. "Familial Alzheimer's disease is linked to mutations in the APP, PSEN1 and PSEN2 genes." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather