Lifestyle factors link to dementia


EU-funded project hopes to identify the habits that can be linked to the disease

IF YOU found out in middle age that giving up smoking, losing excess weight or controlling your high blood pressure might reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life, would you do it?

A new European project will kick off later this year to examine the evidence for links between lifestyle factors and dementia risk. The ultimate aim is to develop software that lets doctors easily work out a patient’s risk and guide them towards local support organisations to change behaviours.

“Everybody ages differently because there’s a massively complex interplay of a lot of different modifiable lifestyle and inherited factors,” explains Dr Kate Irving, a lecturer in nursing at the School of Nursing and Human Sciences at Dublin City University.

She will work on the new EU-funded INnovative Midlife INtervention for Dementia Deterrence (Inmindd) project, which aims to develop a new algorithm for assessing dementia risk based on lifestyle behaviours that can be changed.

“We are making a new algorithm for dementia risks,” says Irving.

“There are already some algorithms but they largely use non-modifiable factors, and there’s not a thing you can do about your genetic make-up or your age or how many years of school you had before you were 18.”

Instead the project, which involves DCU, Maastricht University, the University of Glasgow, the University of Nice, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Clarity centre and project management company Pintail Ltd will put the focus on factors that people can alter.

“In the consortium we feel there are lots of modifiable factors that give rise to your risk of dementia, and they may have a smaller impact on your risk but taken together in concert that is what is important,” says Irving.

The €3-million three-year project will review the literature and talk to experts about dementia risk factors, and then develop software to assess risk factors for an individual patient.

Inmindd will validate the system using existing databases of information from Europe that have recorded lifestyle behaviours of individuals over many years and whether they developed dementia in later life.

It’s important that the findings can actually be used by GPs and their patients, says Irving, so the project will also develop a computer-based system that analyses an individual’s risk factors and comes up with a risk profile.

“We will recruit and work closely with a group of GPs to ensure the system and the information it requires is viable and can be embedded into standard practice,” says Irving, who adds that it will also network the patient into a support environment such as a local smoking cessation or weight-loss programme. “We haven’t worked out exactly what the support environment will be, it’s part of our research to work out what that should be.”

The EU project will also put the software system through its paces. A trial will assess whether people who get their risk profiles will change their behaviours over the course of nine months.

But will it make a difference? The literature on modifiable lifestyle changes and dementia risk is far from definitive.

“There are things that we know about dementia and risk, and it’s not ‘cause and effect’, it is correlational evidence that we have,” says Irving. “But nonetheless if you ask me do I want to be in the group of people at high risk or at low risk without cause-and-effect research, I will still say I want to be in the low-risk group.”

Irving is also currently involved in a new, monthly “Alzheimer cafe” on Dublin’s northside being run with support from DCU and the HSE as well as the Alzheimer’s Society and local businesses.

At the cafe, people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (and who are aware of the diagnosis) and their relatives can meet each other and healthcare professionals in an informal environment, and attend talks by experts. Sessions run on the last Tuesday of each month, and the first meeting is this evening at 7pm.

For more details see or call 089-4846719

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