Young-onset, or early-onset, dementia is less common than dementia diagnosed in seniors. However, it does strike people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Often, these cases are due to genetics. However, new research has found there could be other causes more within our control.
Research recently published in JAMA Neurology investigated whether there were modifiable young-onset dementia risk factors in addition to genetic risk. After studying the health records of more than 350,000 people in the United Kingdom, researchers identified more than a dozen such factors, giving hope that there may be some things we can do to lower our risk.
Dr. Stevie Hendriks, first author and researcher at Maastricht University, says, “Young-onset dementia has a very serious impact, because the people affected usually still have a job, children, and a busy life. The cause is often assumed to be genetic, but for many people we don’t actually know exactly what the cause is. This is why we also wanted to investigate other risk factors in this study.”
To investigate possible risk factors, the team used data from 356,052 participants in the long-running UK Biobank study. The group had baseline testing done between 2006 and 2010 and were followed through up to 2018 in Wales and up to 2021 in England and Scotland. By the end of the study period, there were 485 young-onset dementia cases among the participants.
The team found that there were 15 factors linked with a higher risk of the disease. Those included lower formal education, lower socioeconomic status, no alcohol use or alcohol use disorder, social isolation, vitamin D deficiency, lower handgrip strength, hearing impairment, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Many of these factors are also associated with a higher risk of dementia in older people.
Dr. Sebastian Köhler, study co-author and professor of neuroepidemiology at Maastricht University, says, “We already knew from research on people who develop dementia at older age that there are a series of modifiable risk factors. In addition to physical factors, mental health also plays an important role, including avoiding chronic stress, loneliness and depression. The fact that this is also evident in young-onset dementia came as a surprise to me, and it may offer opportunities to reduce risk in this group too.”
The team says their findings could help with dementia prevention initiatives and new treatment possibilities. You can read more of the study here.