And while we know that factors like exercise, smoking, gut health, and even your relationships can make you more or less likely to develop the condition, it can be hard to work out exactly how your specific genetic and lifestyle factors combine to create or diminish risk.
Thankfully, researchers at the University of Ottowa recently released an online tool for the over 55s that calculates how your family history and lifestyle choices affect your risk profile.
It asks users questions about everything from their vegetable consumption to their educational status when calculating the estimation. It doesn’t work for those under 55 ― this is because most cases occur in older people.
It’s designed for those who aren’t in residential homes and who have not already been diagnosed with dementia.
The test is part of a broader initiative called Project Big Life, which was created by Canadian researchers who sought a “way to show how our research and public health policy could affect people, their families and their community.”
Other tests of theirs include an overall life expectancy test (which is open to everyone over 20), a cardiovascular disease risk calculator (again, for the over 20s), and a chronic kidney disease risk calculator (for those older than 19).
The tests usually take about three to five minutes to complete, though the dementia risk calculator should take five to ten minutes. Of course, the results are just an estimation ― if an informed one.
Can I do anything to improve my score?
For all of these tests, some of the results are determined by genetics. However, some lifestyle factors can heighten or lessen your risks.
For instance, “Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to improve your health. It has been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia, heart disease, cancer and stroke. You experience health benefits within weeks of stopping, breathing easier and feeling fitter,” says Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health.
In fact, Dementia UK says that “although getting older is undeniably the biggest risk factor for dementia, research suggests up to one in three cases of dementia are preventable.”
They suggest that some of the factors you can change include your diet, your fitness levels, your alcohol consumption, hanging out with your loved ones, and taking up a hobby.
Dementia UK also recommends brain-healthy foods such as berries, beans, fish, nuts, olive oil, and even moderate amounts of red wine. And they advise against the overconsumption of foods like butter, red meat, pastries, and sweets.
It might be worth visiting your GP if you’re concerned about your risk level. Dementia UK’s free helpline and online chat is available here if needed.
You can take Project Big Life’s dementia risk calculator for the over 55s here.