Half of UK adults don’t realise the risk factors of dementia – here’s everything you need to know

Half of UK adults don’t realise the risk factors of dementia – here’s everything you need to know
Half of UK adults are unaware of the any of the key risk factors of Dementia, according to Alzheimer's Research UK (Photo: Shutterstock)

Half of UK adults are unaware of the any of the key risk factors of dementia, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK, identified that only one per cent of 2,361 people surveyed were able to name the common risks and protective factors of the disease.

What are the risks?

Studies have found that public knowledge of the risk factors associated with dementia is significantly lower than awareness of the symptoms.

According to the study, only 34 per cent of people believe dementia is a health condition which they can actively reduce the risk of developing, despite a third of cases thought to be influenced by factors within our control.

A fifth of adults also incorrectly believed dementia to be an inevitable part of getting older.

The following six factors are considered as key risks in developing dementia:

  • heavy drinking
  • genetics
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • diabetes

And physical exercise is a key protective factor against the disease.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is not a single disease, but rather is a term used to describe the symptoms which occur as a result of a decline in brain function.

Smoking is one of six major risk factors associated with developing dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)
Smoking is one of six major risk factors associated with developing dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)

According to the NHS, several different diseases can cause dementia, and are typically associated with an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain.

The build-up causes nerve cells to decline in functionality and later die, causing different areas of the brain to shrink.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and is estimated to affect around 850,000 people in the UK.

What are the early symptoms?

As it is a progressive condition, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s develop gradually and become more obvious over the course of several years.

The first obvious sign of Alzheimer’s tends to be minor issues with memory, such as forgetting recent conversations, or the names of places and objects.

As the condition worsens, the NHS advise that common symptoms can include:

  • confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places
  • difficulty planning or making decisions problems with speech and language
  • problems moving around without assistance, or performing self-care tasks
  • personality changes, such as becoming aggressive, demanding and suspicious of others
  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) and delusions (believing things that are untrue)
  • low mood or anxiety

Who is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Generally, people over the age of 65 are at higher risk of presenting signs of Alzheimer’s, but anyone with a family history of the illness or who has suffered severe head injuries in the past could also develop symptoms.

Physical exercise is a key protective factor against Dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)
Physical exercise is a key protective factor against Dementia (Photo: Shutterstock)

There is no single test that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

The doctor will ask questions about any memory issues, and may do some tests to rule out other conditions.

Is there a cure?

There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s, although there are some medications that can ease some of the symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition in some people.

On average, people with Alzheimer’s disease live for around 8 to 10 years after they start to develop symptoms.

How can I prevent it?

Since the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not currently known, there is no surefire way to prevent the disease.

However, it may be possible to reduce or delay your risk of developing dementia by living a healthy lifestyle.

The NHS recommend quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy diet and staying physically fit and mentally active.