Middle-aged people's chances of developing dementia later in life have been calculated for the first time in a new study that outlines key lifestyle changes needed to reduce the risk, Guardian Unlimited reports.
By assessing factors such as blood pressure, body fat and cholesterol levels in 1,400 middle-aged Finns in the 1970s and 1980s, scientists were able to predict, with a 70% accuracy rate, the onset of dementia 20 years later.
The work, published in the journal Lancet Neurology, is based on a Finnish study that revealed several midlife risk factors were linked to dementia, BBC News reports.
The scientists used data from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Ageing and Dementia study.
The leading factors virtually mirror those already known for cardiovascular disease: obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Having any one of these risk factors doubles a person's chance of developing dementia, and having all three increases their chances by six times, said Dr. Miia Kivipelto, an associate professor at the Aging Research Centre in Stockholm, Sweden, and the study's lead author.
Risk scores have been developed for other diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, "but we've never before had a tool like this for estimating the risk of dementia," Kivipelto said.
The study looked at 1,409 middle-aged people in Finland from 1972 to 1987, who were then re-examined 20 years later. Forty of those developed dementia, according to the AP.
While cautioning that the results still need to be validated in further studies in different populations, Kivipelto says that their risk score predicted dementia occurrence with about a 70 percent accuracy rate.
Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for dementia, and mental health experts admit that the disease may not be entirely preventable. "Even if you remove all of the risk factors, and control your blood pressure and cholesterol, and are not obese, there is no guarantee that you will not develop dementia," said Dr. Jose Bertolote, coordinator of Mental and Brain Disorders at the World Health Organization.
Factors such as genetics and age, known to play a role in determining mental illness, simply cannot be modified. In addition, other risk factors such as drinking alcohol, diet and smoking, were not considered in the study.