Hello. Today in the Wicking Dementia Laboratory we have 12 volunteers who are going to demonstrate the influence of modifiable factors on our risk of developing dementia. There are important non-modifiable risk factors for dementia; things we can’t change. We can’t stop growing older, which is the biggest risk factor for dementia. And we can’t change our family or our genes.
This is a group of 12 friends who have their own individual mix of genes inherited from their parents. Some of them will be at higher risk of developing dementia than others, because of their genes.
We can’t actually measure anyone’s level of genetic risk because it’s complex and involves many different genes. But for the purposes of our demonstration, let’s line up our friends and assume this represents the order of their dementia risk according to the genetic make-up they were born with.
Hypothetically, if genes were the only thing affecting their risk, let’s say 3 out of 4 people in the high risk group would get dementia. 2 out of 4 in the medium risk group would get dementia, and just 1 out of 4 in the low risk group would get dementia.
But genes are not the only factor that affects our risk. Now let’s look at some of the other factors that we know have an effect on our risk of developing dementia and see if anyone’s risk changes.
Let’s start with Brenda, who hypothetically has the highest genetic risk. She eats a healthy diet including lots of vegetables and fruit and fish, which is most likely associated with a reduced risk of dementia, so she gets to move down the line, closer to a lower risk.
Chris uses aluminium pots and pans, but there is no evidence this affects dementia risk, so she stays where she is in the line.
Douglas does regular physical exercise, which is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, so he gets to move down the line, closer to a lower risk.
Edmond smokes cigarettes, and we know smoking increases the risk of dementia, so he has a higher risk and unfortunately he moves up the line.
Fiona is 45 and has high blood pressure, but hasn’t had it checked or treated, and high blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of dementia, so she also moves up the line.
Gary has decided to eat coconut oil every day, but this hasn’t been proven to affect dementia risk, so he stays where he is.
Heidi is learning a second language, and keeping your brain active is associated with lower dementia risk, so she gets to move down the line.
Ivan meets regularly with his walking group and scrabble club. As social activity is associated with reduced dementia risk, he moves down the line.
Joseph is 55 and very overweight, and we know that midlife obesity is associated with increased dementia risk, so he moves up the line toward higher risk.
Katie has diabetes and Luigi has depression. Both can be associated with increased dementia risk if poorly managed, so they move up the line toward higher risk.
Mary has decided to take ginkgo biloba supplements, but there is no evidence they can reduce dementia risk, so she stays where she is.
Our friends have demonstrated how environmental and medical factors can modify our risk of dementia.
Douglas started in the high risk group, but thanks to regular physical activity, he moved to the medium risk group.
Fiona, who has high blood pressure and doesn’t have regular check-ups to keep it controlled, started with a medium risk but moved into the high risk group.
Heidi and Ivan moved to the low risk group by keeping their brains active with mental and social activities.
This shows the choices we make can influence our risk of dementia just as much as our genetics. Of course, it’s not as simple as our example here, because we each have many different lifestyle and health factors that might be increasing or decreasing our risk.
The best any of us can do to reduce our risk of dementia is live a healthy and active life, and manage vascular risk factors and depression. This can’t guarantee we won’t get dementia, but we’d all prefer to be in the low risk group than the high risk group.
Thanks everyone. Who’s for some fun brain stimulation?
Let’s build something!