Study identifies a wide range of risk factors for young-onset dementia

The groundwork for new prevention strategies.

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Young-onset dementia can be highly impactful since those affected often still have jobs, children, and active lives. While the cause is often assumed to be genetic, there is uncertainty about the exact reasons for many individuals. This is why this new study aimed to explore other potential risk factors beyond genetics.

Scientists have discovered various risk factors associated with young-onset dementia, challenging the belief that genetics alone drive the condition. This extensive study pinpointed 15 risk factors resembling those linked to late-onset dementia. The findings suggest that it might be feasible to lower the risk of young-onset dementia by focusing on health and lifestyle factors.

In a study involving over 350,000 participants under 65 from the UK Biobank study, scientists investigated various risk factors for young-onset dementia. The research considered factors ranging from genetics to lifestyle and environment.

The findings showed that a higher risk of young-onset dementia is associated with factors such as lower formal education, lower socioeconomic status, genetic variations, lifestyle choices like alcohol use disorder and social isolation, as well as health issues like vitamin D deficiency, depression, stroke, hearing impairment, and heart disease.

Professor David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter emphasized the importance of the findings: “This breakthrough study illustrates the crucial role of international collaboration and big data in advancing our understanding of dementia. There’s still much to learn in our ongoing mission to prevent, identify, and treat dementia in all its forms in a more targeted way. This is the largest and most robust study of its kind ever conducted. Excitingly, for the first time, it reveals that we may be able to take action to reduce the risk of this debilitating condition through targeting a range of different factors.”

Existing research on dementia in older individuals has identified several modifiable risk factors. These include not only physical aspects but also mental health considerations such as managing chronic stress, combating loneliness, and addressing depression. The surprising discovery that these factors also influence young-onset dementia suggests potential opportunities for risk reduction in this specific group as well.

Dr Janice Ranson, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, said: “Our research breaks new ground in identifying that the risk of young-onset dementia can be reduced. We think this could herald a new era in interventions to reduce new cases of this condition.”

Dr. Leah Mursaleen, Head of Clinical Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, which co-funded the study, said“At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we’re committed to funding research into how to prevent dementia, as well as how to diagnose and treat it so that we can help bring about a world free of the fear, harm, and heartbreak of this devastating condition.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Stevie Hendriks, Janice M. Ranson et al. Risk Factors for Young-Onset Dementia in the UK Biobank. JAMA Neurology. DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2023.4929

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