Scientists have identified 11 risk factors for dementia and used them to develop a tool that can predict whether someone will develop the condition in the next 14 years.
The number of people living with dementia globally is expected to nearly triple to 153 million by 2050, and experts say it poses a fast-growing threat to health and social care systems in the future. But targeting key risk factors, many of which include lifestyle, can prevent about 40% of cases.
The new dementia risk score, which is based on 11 mostly modifiable risk factors, could determine who is at risk of developing the disease – from middle age onwards – within the next 14 years. And the results were Published in the open access journal BMJ Mental Health.
The research, which was led by the University of Oxford, examined data on people aged 50 to 73 who took part in two large, long-running British studies – the UK Biobank Study and the Whitehall Study II.
In the UK Biobank study, 220,762 people with an average age of 60 were screened to develop a risk assessment tool, and the Whitehall 2 study validated 2,934 people with an average age of 57.
The researchers compiled a list of 28 known factors associated with dementia risk, then identified the strongest predictors. This produced a list of 11 predictive factors, which were then used to develop the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS) tool.
The 11 factors are age, education, history of diabetes, history of depression, history of strokes, parental history of dementia, levels of deprivation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, living alone and being male.
The researchers also examined these risk factors along with whether or not people carried a specific gene — the APOE gene, which is a known risk factor for dementia. This risk instrument was called the UKBDRS-APOE instrument.
They found that UKBDRS-APOE produced the highest predictive score, followed closely by the UKBDRS risk instrument. The researchers said the tool is “significantly superior” to other similar risk assessments currently available.
In addition to identifying people at risk, these tools can also highlight preventative measures people can take while it’s still possible.
The academics point to previous work indicating that up to 40% of dementia cases could be prevented by modifying certain lifestyle factors, such as stopping smoking, lowering high blood pressure, losing weight, and reducing alcohol intake.
They said the new tool could be used as a primary screening tool for dementia to put people into “at-risk groups”.
Those who come back with a high risk of dementia, according to the risk score, may be prioritized for further testing including cognitive assessments, brain scans and blood tests.
“The UKBDRS is best used as a primary screening tool to stratify people into risk groups, and those identified as high risk can then benefit from the more time-intensive follow-up assessments described above for a more detailed characterization,” said the lead author. Dr. Rehan Patel of the University of Oxford.
Associate Professor Sana Suri of the University of Oxford, a co-author, added: “It is important to remember that this risk score only tells us about our chances of developing dementia; It does not represent a final result.
“The importance of each risk factor varies, and because some of the factors included in the score can be modified or treated, there are things we can all do to help reduce the risk of dementia.
“While advanced age (60 and over) and APOE pose the greatest risks, modifiable factors such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure also have a major role to play. For example, the estimated risk for a person with all of these symptoms would be About three times higher than the risk of a person of the same age who does not have it.