Early-Onset Dementia Risk Tied To Alcoholism, Social Isolation And These Other Factors, Study Finds

Published 5 months ago
By Forbes | Mary Whitfill Roeloffs
Dementia bran scan research
Dementia bran scan research (Source: Getty Images)

TOPLINE

Depression, vitamin D deficiency, social isolation and diabetes are among a dozen health issues that can increase the risk of early-onset dementia, according to a new study published Tuesday, the latest evidence on causes of the condition beyond genetics.

KEY FACTS

The study published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Neurology found people who are vitamin D deficient or suffer from depression are at a higher risk for experiencing dementia symptoms before the age of 65, as are those with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, a hearing impairment or a form of low blood pressure called orthostatic hypotension.

Factors associated with a lower risk of early-onset dementia included education (having an academic or professional degree), socioeconomic status (wealthier people had a lowered risk) and alcohol use (moderate to heavy drinkers had the lowest association with dementia, while those who didn’t drink at all or with alcohol use disorder were at higher risk).

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Researchers with the University of Exeter, Maastricht University and other institutions studied more than 330,000 people under the age of 65 from the United Kingdom and considered 39 risk factors across medical, demographic, lifestyle and environmental factors, among other indicators.

Early-onset dementia often presents as a change in personality or behavior in people between 30 and 60 years old and is estimated to impact 3.9 million people around the world, the study says— about 5% of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia illnesses develop symptoms before age 65, according to the Mayo Clinic

BIG NUMBER

40%. A 2020 report of the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care suggests late-onset dementia cases (in those older than 65) could be reduced by as much as 40% if certain risk factors are eliminated like smoking, high alcohol intake and depression.

SURPRISING FACT

While preventative risk factors for late-onset dementia include physical activity, healthy diet, socialization and cognitive activity, authors of the new study said it’s unclear if the same factors apply to early-onset cases.

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KEY BACKGROUND

Early or young-onset dementia can be attributed to a wider range of diseases than those that impact older people, and people grappling with early-onset cases are more likely to experience a wide range of symptoms in the starting stages, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. Memory loss is often not an early symptom of young-onset dementia, and patients are more likely to experience problems with movement, walking, coordination or balance. Often called “working-age dementia,” the new study describes the condition as having a “particularly high” personal, societal and economic cost on younger people because of consequences to employment, social life and familial responsibilities.