Risk factors for dementia

For dementia (cognitive disease) as a group (all dementia diseases), being old, having high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood fats, being overweight, and being a smoker are all risk factors. Damage to the skull, genetic changes, and being old are all specific risk factors to Alzheimer’s disease.

People who are carriers of one or two variants of the risk gene ApoE4 have a higher risk (3-10 times higher) of developing Alzheimer's disease. At the same time, it is important to know that you can have the ApoE4 allele/risk gene and still not fall ill with Alzheimer's disease so it is not a "solution" to test everyone for this risk gene. If you have this particular variant, lifestyle factors can reduce the risk. This means that the end result will be the same, namely that a healthy lifestyle seems to be good for delaying symptoms.

Dementia (cognitive disorders) is more common among women over 85 years of age and especially in Alzheimer's disease.

All in all, becoming old is the biggest risk factor for both Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment as a whole.

A healthy lifestyle improves cognitive abilities

Miia Kivipelto, professor at Karolinska Institutet, and one of the world's leading researchers on "cognitive impairment linked to lifestyle", has shown in the internationally acclaimed FINGER study that patient groups at risk for developing dementia (cognitive disease) can influence their cognitive functions such as attention, executive ability and memory, by readding to a healthier lifestyle. It is about changing one's habits in as many areas as the five fingers of the hand through a program that included the following elements:

  • Dietary advice
  • Physical exercise (muscles, cardio)
  • Cognitive exercise
  • Social activities
  • Control/influence of blood vessel-related risk factors

The health advice they received improved their memories and cognitive abilities. WHO is now using the FINGER-model as a guideline for improving cognitive functions. It’s still to be proven whether a healthy lifestyle, following the FINGER-study, can minimize the risk of developing dementia or not. We hope that that’s the case, and we want to contribute to diminishing the risk of developing cognitive diseases by offering easily accessible screening and guidance online.

What can I do to improve my cognitive abilities?

  • Live an active life – physically, socially and mentally.
  • Keep your plausible risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in check (smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, factors related to diet)
  • Keep blood pressure, blood fats and weight normal – preferably as early as middle age.
  • Make sure you’re regulating your blood sugar if you have diabetes
  • Do not smoke
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish 2-3 times a week, of which fatty fish 1 time a week.
Read more under "Keepingyour brain healthy"

Johan Sundelöf, Senior Physician, Specialist in Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine
Reviewed by: Johan Sundelöf, Senior Physician, Specialist in Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine
Updated: January 22, 2021
Published: 15 December, 2020

How the brain worksRisk factors for dementiaImproving your brain healthNutrition
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