Changing Some Lifestyle Habits Could Prevent Young-Onset Dementia

A recent research study sheds new light on risk factors for young-onset dementia (YOD), adding hope that prevention and/or delayed onset are within reach with some lifestyle changes. Scientists reported their findings in JAMA Neurology. Read on to learn how changing or modifying some lifestyle habits can help stave off young-onset dementia.

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By Alzheimer's Prevention Bulletin

For the first time, people younger than age 65 have hope to avoid or delay young-onset dementia (YOD) based on findings from a research study that identifies 15 risk factors associated with the debilitating disease.

In an article published in December 2023 in JAMA Neurology, researchers highlighted their findings and helped shed light on how the risk factors can be lessened by incorporating healthy lifestyle habits and other interventions.

The authors of the paper used data from the UK Biobank, an ongoing prospective cohort study in the United Kingdom (UK) consisting of more than 500,000 participants. For their study cohort, the researchers included more than 356,052 participants who were younger than age 65 and who had not been diagnosed with dementia.

Zoe Arvanitakis, MD, MS, EMBA, FAAN, FANA, medical director of the Rush Memory Clinic and Neuroscientist, Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, who was not involved in the study, said, “This study brought to light that not only are there risk factors for young-onset dementia that can be identified, but that many of these risk factors can possibly be influenced. This gives hope that it is in one’s power to decrease the chance of getting this devastating condition.”

The 15 risk factors significantly associated with a higher YOD risk, are:

  • lower formal education
  • lower socioeconomic status
  • carrying 2 copies of the apolipoprotein (APOE) ε4 allele (APOE4)
  • no alcohol use
  • alcohol use disorder
  • social isolation
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • high C-reactive protein levels
  • lower handgrip strength
  • hearing impairment
  • orthostatic hypotension
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • depression

“Interestingly, most of these risk factors can be modified either by individuals themselves, or at the societal level, such as with public health policies,” said Arvanitakis.

Identifying these risk factors is crucial for developing strategies to prevent YOD and delay the onset of dementia in later life. Interventions aimed at promoting higher education and socioeconomic opportunities, reducing social isolation, and improving overall health could be important steps in reducing the risk of YOD. Additionally, genetic screening for the APOE ε4 variant could help identify individuals at higher risk, allowing for early interventions and monitoring.

While the number of risk factors may seem daunting, Arvanitakis says focusing on a few can have high rewards.

She said, “I would recommend that younger adults eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, be physically active, doing both aerobic and anaerobic exercise several times a week, be social with family and friends, have healthy sleep behaviors, and keep their mind active with regular mental stimulation, which is challenging but fun.”

While this study provides valuable insights into the factors associated with YOD, further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms and to develop targeted interventions for preventing YOD. Collaborative efforts between researchers, healthcare providers, policymakers, and the community will be essential in addressing the growing burden of YOD and improving outcomes for affected individuals and their families.

Although the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry doesn’t currently have studies on this topic, we are adding new studies on a regular basis. Watch for study opportunity announcements and visit our Find a Study page.