We all want to feel our best as we age. While we cannot control everything, about 40 per cent of one’s dementia risk is linked to modifiable lifestyle factors, such as high blood pressure, substance abuse and hearing loss.
In fact, according to a recent Baycrest study, if you do not have any dementia risk factors, you likely have similar brain health as people who are 10 to 20 years younger than you. The study found that a
single dementia risk factor could reduce cognition by the equivalent of up to three years of aging, regardless of actual age.
“This is crucial, as it means risk factors can and should be addressed as early as possible,” says Dr. Nicole Anderson, Senior Scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), Associate Scientific Director of Baycrest’s Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness, and senior author of this study.
The study looked at data from more than 22,000 people aged 18 to 89 who completed the Cogniciti Brain Health Assessment, developed by Baycrest. The test takes around 20 minutes to complete online and consists of a background questionnaire and four cognitive tasks. The researchers looked at participants’ performance on memory and attention tests, and how this was impacted by eight modifiable risk factors for dementia: low education, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, alcohol or substance abuse, hypertension, smoking, diabetes and depression.
Each factor led to a decrease in cognitive performance by as much as three years of aging, with each additional factor contributing the same amount of decline. For example, having three risk factors could lead to a decrease in cognitive performance equivalent to as much as nine years of aging.
“You have the power to decrease your risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” says Dr. Annalise LaPlume, Post doctoral Fellow at the RRI and lead author of the study. “Start addressing any risk factors you have now, whether you’re 18 or 90, and you’ll support your brain health to help yourself age fearlessly.”