If I were to ask for a show of hands, I don’t think anyone would say they actually wish to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or any related dementias. And yet there are a number of lifestyle and health choices that each of us makes any given day that make us look a lot like “dementia volunteers.” Let me share with you some of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found when they dug into the preventable risk factors for dementias that Americans report.
In 2019 the CDC surveyed 162,000 adults 45 years of age and older about a range of lifestyle and healthstyle habits that can impact a person’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias (ADRD). The most common factors that can precipitate ADRD are high blood pressure and failure to engage in regular aerobic physical activity. Almost half of those surveyed fell into this risk category, and another one-third reported being obese, almost one in five had diabetes, and nearly as many were chronically depressed. But that’s not all. One in ten of these adults were binge drinkers, 11% had hearing issues and 15% smoked cigarettes.
What effect do these “lifestyle choices” have on the risk of developing ADRD? For starters, one in every nine of those in the study reported subjective cognitive decline, a strong indicator of later ADRD. For those with no risk factors from the list above, their risk of developing subjective cognitive decline was only 4%, but that risk rose to 25% for panelists who had four or more risk factors. Looking at just those with subjective cognitive decline, more than one third had four or more risk factors. It extended to the other risk factors as well. Compared with the base, three in ten of those with depression, one in four with hearing loss and one in nine reporting binge drinking also reported subjective cognitive decline.
So, it’s a veritable checklist to reduce the risk of these serious cognitive issues. Think of such measures as the equivalent of using seat belts in cars. Their use is up to the driver, but using them makes a huge difference in the event of a crash. Seat belt use in the most recent year available from U.S. government sources reduces death by 45% and serious injury by 50%. Buckle up!
Other research in UK found that modifying 12 risk factors – yes, there are more – over one’s lifetime prevents or delays 40% of dementia cases. So, review this list with an older loved one – or any loved one for that matter – and manage your way and their way to better cognitive health. What you do will make a measurable difference for everyone.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.