Many factors can eventually lead to dementia
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Risk factors that can't be changed
Age. The risk of AD, vascular dementia, and several other dementias goes up significantly with advancing age.
Genetics/family history. As described in the section "What Causes Dementia?" researchers have discovered a number of genes that increase the risk of developing AD. Although people with a family history of AD are generally considered to be at heightened risk of developing the disease themselves, many people with a family history never develop the disease, and many without a family history of the disease do get it. In most cases, it is still impossible to predict a specific person's risk of the disorder based on family history alone. Some families with CJD, GSS, or fatal familial Insomnia have mutations in the prion protein gene, although these disorders can also occur in people without the gene mutation. Individuals with these mutations are at significantly higher risk of developing these forms of dementia. Abnormal genes are also clearly implicated as risk factors in Huntington's disease, FTDP-17, and several other kinds of dementia.
Down syndrome. By the time they reach middle age, most people with Down syndrome develop the plaques and tangles characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, according to studies. Many, but not all, also develop dementia.
Risk factors you can change
To reduce your risk of dementia, you can take steps to control the following factors.
Smoking and alcohol use. Several recent studies have found that smoking significantly increases the risk of mental decline and dementia. People who smoke have a higher risk of atherosclerosis and other types of vascular disease, which may be the underlying causes for the increased dementia risk. Studies also have found that drinking large amounts of alcohol appears to increase the risk of dementia. However, other studies have suggested that people who drink moderately have a lower risk of dementia than either those who drink heavily or those who completely abstain from drinking.
Atherosclerosis. This buildup of fats and other substances in and on your artery walls (plaques) is a significant risk factor for vascular dementia because it interferes with blood flow to your brain. This can lead to Stroke. Studies have also shown a possible link between atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.
Blood pressure. Blood pressure that's too high, and also possibly too low, can put you at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
Cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, can significantly increase your risk of developing vascular dementia. Some research has also linked it to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Depression. Although not yet well understood, late-life Depression, especially in men, may be an indication for the development of Alzheimer's-related dementia.
Diabetes. If you have Type 2 diabetes, you're at increased risk of developing both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
High estrogen levels. High levels of total estrogen in women have been associated with greater risk of developing dementia. This can be determined through a blood test.
Homocysteine blood levels. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine — a type of amino acid produced by your body — may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. When working properly, your body breaks down homocysteine using Vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid. If this isn't happening properly, it may be because you don't metabolize these vitamins well, or you don't have enough of them in your diet. Blood tests can determine whether you have elevated homocysteine levels.
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