Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Factors that affect risk of dementia

In Brief

Factors that affect risk of dementia

It's not always easy to distinguish the normal forgetfulness that occurs as people age from the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. Although clinical tools exist for other diseases — such as the Framingham Heart Index, which assesses risk of having a heart attack within 10 years — nothing similar exists to predict risk of dementia.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, published a late-life dementia risk index based on data collected from the 3,375 people, ages 65 and older, participating in the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study.

All participants had normal mental function when they entered the study, but six years later, 14% had developed dementia. Older age and poor performance on a cognitive test at the time of study entry were the factors that best predicted the development of dementia later on. Other factors that were associated with increased risk of dementia included current or past cardiovascular disease, low body mass index, slow physical performance, and avoidance of alcohol.

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