Scientists have devised a list of risk factors for dementia and developed a tool which can ‘strongly predict’ whether a person will develop the condition in the next 14 years.
Experts from the University of Oxford devised a list of 11 factors that were found to assess with good accuracy whether or not middle-aged people would go on the develop the condition.
They examined data on more than 200,000 people aged 50 to 73 taking part in two major long-term British studies.
Researchers compiled a list of 28 known factors linked to dementia risk and then whittled them down to the strongest 11 predictors.
The factors include age, education, a history of diabetes, a history of depression, a history of stroke, parental history of dementia, levels of deprivation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, living alone and being male.
Scientists have devised a list of risk factors for developing dementia later in life and one of them is living alone (stock photo)
The team also examined these risk factors alongside whether or not people carried a specific gene – the APOE gene – which is also linked to dementia.
Combined, these were used to develop the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS) – APOE tool.
They discovered the tool produced the highest predictive score for people who went on to develop dementia over the 14-year course of the study.
For example an older male with a history of diabetes, who lives alone, has high blood pressure and the APOE gene, would have a higher risk score compared to a younger woman with none of the other risk factors listed.
The authors said the assessment ‘significantly outperforms’ similar other risk assessment tools currently available.
As well as identifying those at risk, these tools can also highlight preventative measures people can take while it is still possible.
The academics point out previous work which suggests that up to 40 per cent of dementia cases could be prevented through modifying certain lifestyle factors including stopping smoking, reducing high blood pressure, losing weight and reducing alcohol intake.
They suggest that the new tool could, in the future, be used as an initial screening tool for dementia to put people in ‘risk groups’.
Those who come back with a high probability of developing dementia, according to the risk score, could be prioritised for further tests including cognitive assessments, brain scans and blood tests.
Associate professor Sana Suri, co-lead author from the University of Oxford, said: ‘It’s important to remember that this risk score only tells us about our chances of developing dementia; it doesn’t represent a definitive outcome.
‘The importance of each risk factor varies and given that some of the factors included in the score can be modified or treated, there are things we can all do to help reduce our risk of dementia.
‘While older age – 60 and above – and APOE confer the greatest risk, modifiable factors, such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure also have a key role.
‘For example, the estimated risk for a person with all of these will be approximately three times higher than that of a person of the same age who doesn’t have any.’