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Risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia

Eric B Larson, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Steven T DeKosky, MD, FAAN, FACP, FANA
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


Dementia is a disorder that is characterized by impairment of cognition, typically involving memory and at least one other cognitive domain (language, visuospatial, executive function). These must represent a decline from previous level of function and be severe enough to interfere with daily function and independence. As the global population ages, dementia prevalence is expected to rise substantially over the next several decades, especially in low- to middle-income countries.

Two major reports released in 2017 review the literature on potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia and highlight strengths and weaknesses in the available data to support the impact of risk factor modification on dementia incidence [1,2]. While the overall evidence is generally of low quality and does not support any single intervention as effective in delaying or preventing dementia, there is optimism that intensive risk factor modification, especially during midlife (age 45 to 65 years), has the potential to delay or prevent a substantial number of dementia cases worldwide. In support of this, large population-based studies indicate that the incidence of dementia has declined in high-income countries over the last several decades [3-8].

The Lancet Commission estimates that approximately 35 percent of dementia cases are attributable to a combination of nine potentially modifiable risk factors [1]:

Low educational attainment

Midlife hypertension

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 19, 2017.
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