About Alzheimer's & Dementia
Reduce Your Risk
Although the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease and most other dementias is not yet known, research has succeeded in identifying the factors that put people at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias occur as a result of a combination of environmental, personal, genetic, and lifestyle factors. Some of these risk factors can be changed while others cannot.
Risk factors we can control
By controlling these risk factors and adopting healthy choices, you can ensure a healthy brain as you age and build up your cognitive reserves. You may also reduce your risk of developing dementia or delay onset.
- Elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels: Along with obesity, these values are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Getting these values down to the normal recommended range can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia. Please consult your doctor to have these values checked and seek appropriate treatment and follow up.
- Head injury: Repeated head injury, as well as severe head injury causing loss of consciousness has been associated with an increased risk of dementia. Wearing a helmet while cycling or playing contact sports and making your home fall-proof will help reduce your risk of head injury.
- Lack of intellectual stimulation: Increased cognitive activity has been found to decrease the risk of dementia. Engage in a variety of challenging brain activities each day such as learning a new skill, hobby, instrument or language, playing chess or Scrabble, or learning a poem or the lyrics of a song.
- Diet: Follow a heart-healthy and brain-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, to reduce your risk of vascular dementia. Baycrest in Ontario has recently released a Brain Health Food Guide. This can serve as a healthy eating guide for maintaining your brain health
- Tobacco and alcohol consumption: Both are associated with a high risk of stroke-related dementia and alcohol-related dementia. Quit smoking and limit daily alcohol intake to one standard drink for women and two standard drinks for men.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity is beneficial for heart health as well as brain health. It improves circulation to the brain by delivering more oxygen. Engage in 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise for most days of the week.
- Social isolation: People who are isolated have a higher risk of dementia and depression. Actively seek opportunities for meeting and interacting with people.
- Stress: Cortisol produced in the body as a result of stress reduces your ability to adapt to new situations or learn new information. Recognize stressors and take steps to avoid or minimize stress. Adopt active relaxation techniques – yoga, meditation, tai-chi, listening to music, counselling and techniques to keep your stress in check.
Risk factors outside of our control
- Age: Advancing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. At the age of 65, 1 in 11 people have dementia, while at the age of 80, 1 in 3 people will have dementia.
- Family history: Having a positive family history is a strong risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The risk increases with a greater number of family members being diagnosed with the disease.
- Genetics: Research has proven that genes are involved in both familial and sporadic varieties of Alzheimer’s disease. Changes in the gene coding for three different proteins - Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP), Presenilin 1(PS-1) and Presenilin 2 (PS-2) - have been strongly linked to familial Alzheimer’s disease/Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer’s Disease, which can occur in multiple individuals in different generations. This type of Alzheimer’s disease tends to appear at an earlier age (before the age of 65). Fortunately, truly familial Alzheimer’s disease occurs in less than five per cent of the population.
- Genes: Scientists have discovered several risk genes for the sporadic variety of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the more common variety, constituting 93 to 95% of Alzheimer’s disease in the general population, and often appears after the age of 65 years. The risk gene that has been shown to have the strongest impact is Apolipoprotein E4 (APOE-e4), attributable in 20 to 25 per cent of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Inheriting this gene from one parent is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s in comparison with the general population, and getting the gene from both parents raises the risk even further. This gene is also associated with early onset of symptoms.