Risk of young onset dementia linked to health and lifestyle factors as well as genetics

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By Nicola Williams | Tuesday 26 December 2023

A new study suggests that a wide range of risk factors, including health and lifestyle factors, could be linked to young onset dementia. Researchers in the UK and the Netherlands studied more than 350,000 people younger than 65 and identified 15 factors linked to a higher risk of the condition.

Hearing loss, diabetes and excessive alcohol consumption were among these 15 factors and are also risk factors for late onset dementia. However, the study also identified several new factors specifically linked to young onset dementia – these include vitamin D deficiency and levels of proteins, called C-reactive proteins, in the blood.

There are many causes of young onset dementia, which affects people under the age of 65. Previous research has identified several genetic factors that can lead to young onset dementia. There has been less research indicating how much environmental and lifestyle factors also play a role in determining whether someone will get the condition.

This is one of the first large-scale studies to explore which ‘potentially modifiable’ risk factors – ones we may be able to influence – may have the largest impact on young onset dementia risk.

Dr Leah Mursaleen, Head of Clinical Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, which co-funded the study, said:

“We’re witnessing a transformation in understanding of dementia risk and, potentially, how to reduce it on both an individual and societal level. In recent years, there’s been a growing consensus that dementia is linked to 12 specific modifiable risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure and hearing loss. It’s now accepted that up to four in 10 dementia cases worldwide are linked to these factors.

“This pioneering study shines important and much-needed light on factors that can influence the risk of young onset dementia, and starts to fill in an important gap in our knowledge. It will be important to build on these findings in broader studies. At Alzheimer’s Research UK we’re committed to funding research into how to prevent dementia, as well as how to diagnose and treat it, so that we can help bring about a world free of the fear, harm and heartbreak of this devastating condition.”

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Nicola Williams