With more new cases being diagnosed every day, it may be easy to fear that dementia is an inevitable consequence of aging. In reality, only one in three people over the age of 85 suffer from dementia, and there are a variety of causes behind the condition. Understanding why some people are more vulnerable to dementia can help you assess your own risk and take steps to lower your likelihood of developing this affliction.
Determining Genetic Causes of Dementia
There is no "Alzheimer's gene" that guarantees a person will or will not develop dementia. The nature of the disease is simply too complex to be governed by a single gene. There are, however, certain groups of genes that can reduce or increase your propensity for Alzheimer's. One such gene is Apolipoprotein E, which influences the transportation of lipids between neurons as well as neuronal regeneration. If you are lucky, you may possess a version of this gene that actually improves these functions, but it is also possible to carry a mutation that increases your risk by a factor of 15.
Understanding Lifestyle Factors
Being born with disadvantageous genetics does not doom you to dementia, however, and many people who carry problematic genes never develop symptoms. Often, certain lifestyle or environmental influences are also needed to trigger Alzheimer's Disease. For example, heart disease can limit the supply of oxygen and nutrients that are pumped to your brain, significantly increasing your risk for Alzheimer's. Traumatic head injuries or concussions in your past, particularly severe or repeated ones, are another cause for concern.
Identifying Environmental Hazards
You can't always choose your surroundings, but you should be aware of the potential dementia causes around you. Even the foods and drinks you consume can impact your long-term mental health. Alcohol, for instance, can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a form of dementia sparked by a lack of vitamin B1 in the brain. Conversely, the fatty acids in fish have been found to reduce rates of cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly.
Minimizing Your Chances of Developing Dementia
If learning about the potential causes of dementia has only made you more nervous, you should remember that it is ultimately impossible to predict who will succumb to the disease and who will not. By exercising, eating well and avoiding unhealthy habits like drinking or smoking, you can give yourself the best possible odds of avoiding dementia and staying sharp well into your old age. If you are still concerned about your risk factors or suspect you may need memory care in the future, talk to your doctor about the options available to you.