The Dementias: Hope Through Research

Risk Factors for Dementia

The following risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing one or more kinds of dementia. Some of these factors can be modified, while others cannot.

  • Age. The risk goes up with advanced age.
  • bottle of alcohol pouring into glass
    Alcohol abuse may increase the risk of dementia.
    Alcohol use. Most studies suggest that drinking large amounts of alcohol increases the risk of dementia, while drinking a moderate amount may be protective.
  • Atherosclerosis. The accumulation of fats and cholesterol in the lining of arteries, coupled with an inflammatory process that leads to a thickening of the vessel walls (known as atherosclerosis), can hinder blood from getting to the brain, which can lead to stroke or another brain injury. For example, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) can raise the risk for vascular dementia. High LDL levels also have been linked to AD.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes appear to have a higher risk for dementia, although the evidence for this association is modest. Poorly controlled diabetes, however, is a well-proven risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular disease-related events, which in turn increase the risk for vascular dementia.
  • Down syndrome. Many people with Down syndrome develop early-onset AD, with signs of dementia by the time they reach middle age.
  • Genetics. One’s likelihood of developing a genetically linked form of dementia increases when more than one family member has the disorder. But in some cases, such as with CADASIL, having just one parent who carries a mutation increases the risk of inheriting the condition. In other instances, genetic mutations may underlie dementias in specific populations. For example, a mutation of the gene TREM2 has been found to be common among people with a form of very early onset frontotemporal dementia that runs in Turkish families.
  • Hypertension. High blood pressure has been linked to cognitive decline, stroke, and types of dementia that affect the white matter regions of the brain.
  • Mental illness. Depression has been associated with mild mental impairment and cognitive function decline.
  • Smoking. Smokers are prone to diseases that slow or stop blood from getting to the brain.
older woman in doctor's office
Getting older increases the risk of dementia.


Publication Date: September 2013
Page Last Updated: April 26, 2017

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