A new study has brought new insights into the risk factors of young-onset dementia, highlighting the role of vitamin D deficiency, depression, and diabetes, among others. This condition affects approximately 70,000 individuals in the UK and is characterised by the emergence of dementia symptoms before the age of 65. Contrary to the prevailing belief that genetics are the primary cause, the study underscores a variety of factors that could influence its development. The findings were published in Jama Neurology.
Researchers have identified a list of 15 factors, similar to those for late-onset dementia, which includes elements such as alcohol abuse, stroke, social isolation, and hearing impairment. Interestingly, a higher level of formal education appears to correlate with a lower risk. Dr Janice Ranson, one of the study’s authors, describes this research as groundbreaking, potentially heralding a new era in intervention strategies to reduce the incidence of new cases.
Memory loss, behavioural changes, and disorientation in familiar environments are some of the most common symptoms of dementia. The recent study, conducted by UK and Dutch scientists, is lauded as the largest and most robust of its kind by Professor David Llewellyn. The research involved the analysis of data from over 350,000 individuals under 65 from across the UK.
Professor Llewellyn emphasises the potential for action to mitigate the risk of this debilitating condition, while Dr Stevie Hendriks from Maastricht University in the Netherlands points out the profound impact of young-onset dementia, particularly on those who are actively employed and have familial responsibilities.
Dr Leah Mursaleen, head of clinical research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, highlights the study’s role in filling a crucial knowledge gap, offering insights into individual and societal risk reduction strategies.
The research further suggests that adopting a healthy lifestyle, including daily vitamin D supplementation, could decrease the risk of early-onset dementia. British scientists have identified these factors in the largest study of its kind, indicating a shift from the previously held belief that genetics were the sole determinant.
The NHS advises a daily vitamin D supplement intake, especially for individuals with limited sun exposure or those with darker skin, who may struggle to produce adequate levels of the vitamin. The study identifies 15 lifestyle and health-related factors that could lower the risk of developing young-onset dementia, most of which are modifiable and align with risk factors for standard dementia.
The “healthy drinker effect” observed in the study indicates a complex relationship between alcohol consumption and dementia risk. The research also highlights the potential cognitive benefits of pet ownership for individuals living alone, with findings showing a slower rate of cognitive decline and improved memory and verbal skills in pet owners over 50.