Critter Corner: Overlooked Risk Factors of Dementia

Dear Angel,

I often read about new risk factors for dementia. One of them I recently read about was lack of motivation. What are some of the other overlooked risk factors for dementia? Is there any new research on mitigating your risk?

Thanks for your help!

Riss K. Factors

Dear Riss,

As you mentioned, lack of motivation can be a symptom of dementia in the future. According to the findings of a new study, changes may occur in the part of the brain that regulate motivation before the onset of memory loss.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry and led by Yao-Ying May, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Indiana University School of Medicine. The team found evidence of activity in the part of the brain that processes motivation, known as the nucleus accumbens. Dr. May explained: “Even before the onset of cognitive deficits, a significant number of Alzheimer’s patients start showing mood swings, and they have a greater chance to have symptoms of depression. If we can postpone the pathological progression in one of the affected areas, like the nucleus accumbens, that may delay pathological changes in other regions.”

Other Dementia Risk Factors

Dr. May, who has a background in drug addiction studies, pointed out that many of the symptoms experienced by those who suffer from substance abuse are also seen in Alzheimer’s patients, including apathy, mood swings and anxiety, and these symptoms often appear in patients before evidence of memory loss arises.

Here are some other findings when it comes to dementia risk:

  • Personality traits that include being disciplined and organized may be associated with a lower risk of the disease. Researchers believe this could be due to the fact that there tends to be a correlation between these personality traits and other healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Impaired vision in older adults is an under-recognized and modifiable dementia risk factor, new research suggests. Read today’s article for more details.
  • Traumatic brain injury(TBI) with, and without, loss of consciousness (LOC) is linked to increased neurodegenerative and vascular pathology associated with dementia, new research suggests.
  • Cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking, are believed to play key roles in the likelihood of developing cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Long-term cannabis use is linked to hippocampal atrophy and poorer cognitive function in midlife — known risk factors for dementia.
  • Persistently feeling lonely is one of the major risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia.

Lowering Your Dementia Risk

Studies have found a few new things that can possibly mitigate your risk of dementia. One recent study, for example, found that vitamin K has the potential to improve cognitive abilities in aging brains. Another new study found that having a pet or multiple pets at home could have positive effects on your cognitive health. So, consider visiting your nearest shelter or contacting an animal rescue group to adopt a pet!

Although there is no sure way to protect the brain from decline, adopting healthy lifestyle habits — such as a healthy diet, exercise, and routine vision and hearing checks — can possibly help preserve cognitive health.

Hope this helps,

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.