Seven ways to avoid dementia: report identifies risks

Seven ways to avoid dementia: report identifies risks

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Professor Kaarin Anstey, lead author of A Rapidly ageing Australia: cognitive ageing and decline trends.  Photo: Nick Moir

Professor Kaarin Anstey, lead author of A Rapidly ageing Australia: cognitive ageing and decline trends. Photo: Nick Moir

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A new research report on ageing and dementia by some of Australia's top dementia scientists found while almost half of dementia instances can be attributed to seven modifiable lifestyle factors, most people are still in the dark when it comes to knowing the risks.

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LACK of exercise, midlife obesity and low educational attainment are three of the top lifestyle factors linked to dementia.

A new research report on ageing and dementia by some of Australia's top dementia scientists found while almost half of dementia instances can be attributed to seven modifiable lifestyle factors, most people are still in the dark when it comes to knowing the risks.

Published by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing, in collaboration with Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), the report brings together the most recent research on cognitive ageing, including known risk factors.

Those factors - and the proportion of dementia cases attributed to them - are:

  • Physical inactivity (18 per cent)
  • Midlife obesity (17 per cent)
  • Low educational attainment (15 per cent)
  • Midlife hypertension (14 per cent)
  • Depression (8 per cent)
  • Smoking (4 per cent)
  • Diabetes (2 per cent)

More than a third of Australians aged between 70 and 90 will develop mild brain decline - slightly impaired memory, decision making and problem solving. About 30 per cent of that group will go on to develop dementia within 10 years.

As well as highlighting the risk factors, the report - led by CEPAR chief investigator Kaarin Anstey - looked at the rising number of people with dementia and the increasing cost of the disease to families, carers and the economy.

Professor Anstey said the report raised the need for in-depth dementia awareness workshops and community involvement.

"While some detrimental attributing factors to dementia, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, were known, other factors connected to cognitive health were unknown to 95 per cent of the sample population," Professor Anstey said.

The report also highlighted the issue of "financial frailty". CEPAR Director John Piggott said what is clear from the report is that those with cognitive impairment are more susceptible to poor financial decision-making.

"Our retirement income system is very complex and requires a lot of active decisions," Scientia Professor Piggott said.

"We are only beginning to think about how population ageing will affect decision-making ability of older cohorts and what insights psychology and behavioural finance can bring."

Resilience factors

FACTORS that predict resilience to dementia, for men and women, include being younger, higher education, stronger grip and more cognitive activity.

This research, from a single Canadian study looked as part of the CEPAR report, also found having lots of friends and spending lots of time socialising important for both sexes.

For women, being married and living with someone, lower pulse pressure, higher peak expiratory flow, faster walking time, faster turning time and volunteering more all make them more resilient to memory decline.

In men, less depressive symptoms indicated resilience to dementia.

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