Many factors can eventually lead to dementia. Some factors, such as age, can't be changed. Others can be addressed to reduce your risk.

Risk factors that can't be changed

  • Age. As you age, the risk of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and several other dementias greatly increases, especially after age 65. However, dementia isn't a normal part of aging, and dementia can occur in younger people.
  • Family history. If you have a family history of dementia, you're at greater risk of developing the condition. However, many people with a family history never develop symptoms, and many people without a family history do.

    If you have specific genetic mutations, you're at significantly greater risk of developing certain types of dementia.

    Tests to determine whether you have certain genetic mutations are available, but doctors don't generally recommend testing because the tests aren't always accurate.

  • Down syndrome. By middle age, many people with Down syndrome develop the plaques and tangles in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. Some may develop dementia.

Risk factors you can change

You may be able to take steps to control the following risk factors of dementia.

  • Alcohol use. People who consume large amounts of alcohol may have a higher risk of dementia. Although studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect, abuse of alcohol increases your risk of developing dementia.
  • Atherosclerosis. This buildup of fats and other substances in and on your artery walls (plaques) can reduce the blood flow to your brain and lead to stroke. Reduced blood flow to your brain can also cause vascular dementia. Some research shows there may be an association between blood vessel (vascular) conditions and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Blood pressure. Several studies show high or low blood pressure may increase your risk of developing dementia.
  • Cholesterol. If you have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, you may have an increased risk of developing vascular dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Researchers continue to study how cholesterol may affect dementia.
  • Depression. Although not yet well understood, late-life depression, especially in men, may be an indication for the development of Alzheimer's-related dementia.
  • Diabetes. If you have diabetes, you may have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
  • High estrogen levels. Women taking estrogen and progesterone years after menopause are at greater risk of developing dementia.
  • Homocysteine blood levels. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine, a type of amino acid produced by your body, may increase your risk of developing vascular dementia. However, studies have had varying results in determining whether elevated homocysteine levels are a risk factor of dementia.
  • Obesity. Being overweight or obese during the middle of your life may increase your risk of developing dementia when you're older.
  • Smoking. Smoking may increase your risk of developing dementia and blood vessel (vascular) diseases.
May. 06, 2014

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