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The #1 Cause of Dementia, According to Science

Experts explain what causes dementia and ways to help prevent it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the World Health Organization, "Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year." Dementia, described by WHO as, " a syndrome in which there is deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological ageing," Memory loss, difficulty speaking, repeating questions, lack of empathy, taking longer to complete routine tasks are common symptoms of dementia and although there's no cure, there are lifestyle choices to help prevent it. Eat This, Not That Health spoke with experts who share the causes of the disorder and risk factors you can change to lower the chance of getting the syndrome. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Should People Know About Dementia?

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Jennifer Prescott, RN, MSN, CDP and founder of Blue Water Homecare and Hospice shares, "Dementia is a common term that describes a group of symptoms that affect memory, decision making and reasoning. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease which according to the 2022 Alzheimer's Association Facts and Figures Report an estimated 6.5 million Americans 65 and older have Alzheimer's dementia. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's Disease, early diagnosis and treatment are important as there are medications that may improve quality of life and slow symptom progression in some cases.  Once diagnosed, families may work together with healthcare providers to develop a care plan and map of how they want to live the rest of their life safely and with their wishes in mind."

2

How Does Dementia Affect Overall Health and Quality of Life?

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Cole Smith, the corporate director of Dementia care at Brightview Senior Living explains, "Dementia affects overall health in a multitude of ways – whether it's a change of appetite, lack of sleep, trouble with balance, walking or standing, or of course memory loss and confusion. Once a person is diagnosed with Dementia their life will change, and it is vital to ensure they are engaged mentally, physically, socially and seeing their doctors regularly to stay on top of this condition."

3

Who is at Risk for Dementia?

older man with dementia talking to doctor
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Prescott says, "Some lifestyle choices may raise your risk of developing dementia/Alzheimer's Disease. More studies continue to be done to see a direct correlation of habits and Alzheimer's Disease prevalence. 

These risk factors/habits may include:

  • Advanced age
  • Family history of Alzheimer's Disease or dementia
  • Race/ethnicity- The CDC reports that older African Americans are twice as likely to have dementia than Caucasians. Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have dementia than Caucasians.
  • Inactivity or lack of exercise
  • Lack of brain stimulation
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure- high blood pressure may increase risk of some types of dementia. More research needs to be done to see if lowering blood pressure lowers the risk of dementia.
  • High cholesterol- may increase risk of dementia if untreated
  • Traumatic brain injury"
4

Age

senior woman with adult daughter at home.
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Quinn Kennedy, PhD, a Research psychologist who specializes in cognitive aging with QK Consulting shares, "Unfortunately, age is the biggest risk factor for dementia.  For example, 5% of people aged 65 – 74 have dementia compared to 33% of those aged 85 year or older."

5

Stress

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Chaye McIntosh, Clinical Director, ChoicePoint says, "Stress, depression and dementia are related. It is unknown whether depression leads to dementia or vice versa. But on the safe side, let's keep our stress levels down so the brain can be cognitively active for a longer time."

6

Lack of Activity

Senior Hispanic Man Suffering With Dementia Trying To Dress
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McIntosh shares, "People who are physically active have fewer chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease compared to people with a sedentary lifestyle. Also, physical activity reduces the chances of vascular diseases as well. Make sure to find a suitable exercise and burn those extra calories to prevent dementia."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests, "Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving. Each week adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity, according to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans."

7

Poor Diet–Lack of Fruits, Vegetables and Too Many Processed Foods

Senior woman making choice between healthy and junk food
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McIntosh states, "Mediterranean diet, consumption of fruits, a diet rich in antioxidants, and intake of fish or fish oil have all proved beneficial in reducing the risk of dementia."

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