Alzheimer’s and Dementia Risk Factors

A very thorough study by The Alzheimer’s Association states that, 5.7 million Americans are living with alzheimer’s in 2018. Seniors, 65 or older, are more likely to get the disease (Alzheimer’s Association). Dementia is not reversible and progressively destroys memory over the course of a few years.When most people think if dementia, they think of Alzheimer’s, but many people do not know that that is just one out of quite a few forms of dementia. Dementia is more common as people grow older. Before all of the research, developing dementia was mostly based on family history, genes and age. Now, research is beginning to reveal more information that we could use to prevent this disease (Alzheimer’s Association). Factors such as bad health, head injuries and smoking can put someone at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia in their later years of life.

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There is a link between head injuries and Alzheimer’s that puts you at more risk to develop Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia. There are ways you can protect your brain like wearing a helmet when you participate in sports and wearing a seatbelt when riding in a car. All of these can decrease the chance of developing dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. Once known as dementia pugilistica, head injuries that cause dementia are now known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is caused by protein deposits formed in the brain from a head injury (Alzheimer’s Society). Head injuries can be preventable. On the website National Center for Biotechnology, an article written by Anna Nordstrom, from the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, states, a meta-analysis of 15 case-control studies determined that individuals who suffered severe brain injuries were approximately 50% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. With that information, when are the chances worse? The same study states, researchers found out that the risk of a dementia diagnosis is highest during your first year after the injury (National Center for Biotechnology). Even though your chances are greater after the first year, your overall chances of developing dementia never really goes away.

During this time, people were four to six times more likely to get a dementia diagnosis after a traumatic brain injury than those without the injury. Even though the overall risk decreased over time, patients still faced higher risk even thirty years later (National Center of Biotechnology). According to Jesse Fann, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Our data showed that even if you have multiple head injuries in your early twenties, the risk of developing dementia in your fifties increases by 60% (UW Medicine2:20-32). My great grandfather and both of his brothers were boxers, they all went through bad head injuries during their career and all three developed dementia as they grew older. Many boxers, football players and wrestlers develop a form of dementia; which means that even if you have a traumatic brain injury when you are fairly young, it could still affect you later down the road. At the fifteen year follow up, researchers found the risk for a dementia diagnosis increased 80 percent in those who have had at least one traumatic brain injury compared to those who haven’t (National Center of Biotechnology).

Your overall health also has an affect on your chances of developing Alzheimer’s later down the road. In an article from Alzheimer’s Society, author’s state, there is very strong evidence that conditions that damage your heart, arteries or blood circulation such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels and obesity all significantly affect a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s. These all can be avoidable so your health doesn’t affect you when you grow much older. In the book Understanding Alzheimer’s the author Dr. Naheed Ali stated, Poor lifestyle habits that could lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, and diabetes are now risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease (25). These conditions can contribute to the damage and and death of brain cells by hardening the blood vessels and blocking oxygen flow to the brain. Which means that there are steps you can take to control high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. While keeping your blood pressure under control is important, over treating it can be just as harmful as undertreating it says Dr. Levine from an article in Everyday Health. When blood pressure is low it becomes difficult for our bodies to supply the exact amount of blood we need to our brains. Having cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes, the risk of developing dementia increases by up to two times, which is most typically known as vascular dementia; this is caused by problems that have to do with blood supply to the brain (Alzheimer’s Society). Having poor mental health also puts you at risk for developing dementia. Depression is a big leading factor.

Esther Heerema, who is a licensed social worker and has worked with hundreds of people with Alzheimer’s dementia and other types of dementias stated, In a study involving 1,764 participants who were tested and monitored for eight years to evaluate depression symptoms and dementia symptoms, the researchers found that there was a significant correlation between late-life depression and the risk of dementia (Very Well Health). Depression in late-life is unhealthy for your brain, as well as early life depression. Depression in early life can also affect your chances of developing this disease. After more studies, researchers concluded that individuals with either early or late life depression were both up to four times more likely to develop dementia than those without depression (Very Well Health). A lot of people do not realize the overall effect that your health can have on your brain. Depression and Type 2 Diabetes pose a significantly higher risk of developing dementia, and that when the participants had both type 2 diabetes and depression, the risk was even greater than expected (Very Well Health). There are ways that you can keep your mental health strong. Improving your mental health can include eating well and exercising. Gisele Wolf-Klein a professor of medicine at Hofstra Medical School and director of geriatric education for the North Shore LIJ Health System in New York states, Very much of what applies to prevention and good healthy habits in general, applies also to the prevention of dementia (Everyday Health). A very healthy habit to take up to improve your mental health includes exercising. You don’t have to go crazy overboard with the exercising, exercising for just a little bit everyday can help. Studies show that just walking more than a couple blocks a day will reduce dementia risk says Dr. Wolf-Klein (Everyday Health). Exercise is helpful for your body to continue good blood flow to the brain.

We already know that smoking causes serious health risks, but did you know it increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, too (Cognitive Vitality)? Smoking is very unhealthy for your brain. Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contains more than 4,700 chemical compounds, including some that are highly toxic such as vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and heavy metals (Cognitive Vitality). None of these can be good for you nor healthy for your brain. The World health Organization now estimates that up to 14% of Alzheimer’s, most common form of dementia, cases are caused by smoking (Health and Wellness Alerts). There have been quite a few studies on smoking and how it is related to dementia. A 2015 analysis published in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE evaluated the results of 37 studies that compared current smokers with people who never smoked or who quit; the authors found that current smokers were 30 percent more likely to develop some form of dementia than people who never smoked (Health and Wellness Alerts). Which means, that even if you quit smoking, your chances go down. Smoking leads to cognitive decline in many ways. Smoking harms DNA cells throughout the body, which promotes the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain; both are closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease (Cognitive Vitality).

Alzheimer’s is not the only form of dementia you can develop from smoking. Tobacco smoke damages arteries, which interferes with flow to the brain (Cognitive Vitality). When you have poor blood supply to your brain you can develop vascular dementia. Smoking is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so it makes sense that it would also make you vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, John H. Growdon, MD who studies neurology, states (Sharecare). Cardiovascular disease is also linked to vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. As earlier mentioned, there has been many studies on smoking and how it is related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Anthony Cirillo who studies Geriatric Medicine says, A Kaiser Permanente study reported that an analysis of more than 20,000 men and women, studied since 1978, found a 157% heightened risk of Alzheimer’s for people who smoked two packs or more a day (Sharecare). Smoking two packs a day is a whole lot of smoking, but even less than that can still heighten the risk.

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Alzheimer's and Dementia Risk Factors. (2019, Apr 04). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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