Professor June Andrews, cuts to the chase on what you need to know about Dementia.

We are always being told nonsense about dementia in newspaper stories. Most of them are based on press releases from Universities and other researchers who are not specifically interested in dementia, but they get related to dementia to make them headline or click fodder. So here are some basic facts that won’t set the grass on fire, but set out most of what we do know.

Age

Getting older is the strongest risk factor for dementia, and though some people with dementia develop it before the age of 65, the chances of getting it get much higher with age. Above 65, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – or vascular dementia doubles every five years, and it’s estimated dementia affects one in 14 people over 65, and one in six over 80.

Drinking alcohol

Men and women who drank just over one unit of alcohol a day have a noticeable decline in their brain function over four years. It is popular to say that a glass of wine helps, but the research is thin. Perhaps the alcohol problem is related to vascular disease.

Genetics

Most cases of dementia aren’t inherited, but lots of genes have been found that can affect a person’s risk of developing dementia. Lifestyle factors are the major thing you can control. Unfortunately for some people, they’ve inherited from their parent, but that’s relatively rare.

Gender

Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. It’s been suggested that Alzheimer’s disease in women is linked to a lack of oestrogen after the menopause, but evidence is thin.

Health problems that are not managed well

People are at increased risk of dementia if they have badly managed depression, type 2 diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure in middle age. The unexpected slowing in numbers of people with dementia might be related to better health management all round.

Smoking

If you want a 45% higher risk of developing dementia, take up smoking, according to information published by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is never too soon to stop if you change your mind.

Ethnicity

South Asian people seem to develop dementia – particularly vascular dementia – more often than white Europeans. People of African origin also develop dementia more often, if they live long enough. High blood pressure is more evident in these folks (see above) so that might be part of the problem

Lack of exercise

People who regularly exercised appeared to have lower odds of developing dementia than those who didn’t.