Dementia: 11 key risk factors may predict disease 14 years sooner

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Could a new risk score help identify who is most likely to develop dementia with accuracy 14 years ahead of onset? Image credit: Tatiana Maksimova/Getty Images.
  • Researchers developed an 11-point risk factor score to predict dementia onset 14 years ahead of the typical diagnostic timeline.
  • The score is up to 80% accurate in British populations.
  • It could be used as an initial screening tool for dementia.

Millions of people around the world currently live with dementia, a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects memory and cognitive skills.

As there is currently no cure for dementia, preventative strategies are crucial for reducing its impact on a person’s overall health and their quality of life.

Research suggests that up to 40% of dementia cases could be prevented by addressing 12 key risk factors, including low education levels, smoking, and hypertension.

While several prognostic models exist to predict dementia risk, they often carry significant limitations. For example, a 2019 systematic review of 61 dementia risk scores found that only eight had been validated by external samples. Meanwhile, those that had been validated often had poor and inconsistent performance in external validation.

Moreover, most developmental cohorts are from North America. Whether or not these risk scores apply to other populations remains unclear.

New risk scores that are externally validated and include diverse populations are crucial for identifying dementia risk and improving dementia prognosis.

Recently, researchers developed a dementia risk score consisting of 11 risk factors that can predict up to 80% of dementia cases 14 years before onset. They called it the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS).

The study was published in BMJ Mental Health.

For the study, the researchers examined healthcare data from the UK Biobank from 220,762 individuals with an average age of 60 years old. The researchers followed the participants for 14 years.

They also compiled a list of 28 risk and protective factors linked to dementia. After analyzing 80% of the UK Biobank-derived healthcare data in light of these factors, they identified 11 that strongly predicted dementia risk.

These are:

  1. age
  2. education level
  3. parental history of dementia
  4. material deprivation or poverty
  5. history of diabetes
  6. stroke
  7. depression
  8. hypertension (high blood pressure)
  9. high cholesterol
  10. living alone
  11. being male.

To test the reliability of these risk factors, the researchers first assessed them alongside the remaining 20% of the UK Biobank data.

In doing so, they found that the UKBDRS correctly predicted dementia incidence in 80% of individuals.

They next tested the risk score on external data from the Whitehall II study, which included 2,934 British civil servants with an average age of 57 years old at the beginning of the analysis. They were followed for 17 years. Ultimately, they found that the UKBDRS correctly predicted 77% of dementia cases in this cohort.

From sensitivity tests, the researchers showed that the UKBDRS most strongly predicted if a person was likely to develop dementia within the next 14 years.

They added that the UKBDRS achieved comparable results to APOE testing, which assesses the presence of a key genetic biomarker for dementia.

APOE testing predicted 83% of dementia cases in the UK Biobank sample, and 79% of cases in the UK Whitehall II study.

They further found that the UKBDRS outperformed three other widely used dementia risk scores that had also been externally validated.

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