Do You Have Any Of These 12 Dementia Risk Factors?

October 19, 2020

By Anna Varriano

According to the latest stats from the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, over half a million Canadians are living with dementia and approximately 25,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. By 2031, the number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to increase by 66% to 937,000. In light of these predictions – and the fact that Canada’s health-care system is ill-equipped to deal with the staggering costs associated with dementia, it’s clear that we need to take control of what we can to reduce our own risk for developing dementia.

I recently read an article entitled “Twelve Risk Factors Linked to 40% of World’s Dementia Cases”. (1) As there is a history of dementia in my family, I wanted to see what this article had to add to my existing knowledge on the topic.

The article was based on an update to a report from the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care (2) that was first published in 2017 and identified ‘nine modifiable risk factors that were estimated to be responsible for one third of dementia cases’.

Here are the 9 original risk factors from the 2017 Lancet Commission:

1. Not Completing Secondary Education

This affects an individual’s ‘cognitive reserve’; however, the ‘use it or lose it hypothesis’ was also mentioned and suggests that mental activity, in general, might improve cognitive function. Activities like travel, social outings, playing music, art, reading, and speaking a second language, were associated with maintaining cognition, independent of education, occupation, late-life activities, and current structural brain health. Exercise your brain!

2. Hypertension (High Blood Pressure/HBP)

HBP damanges the health of blood vessels, especially the delicate blood vessels that provide our brain with oxygen and nutrients. Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, which results in brain damage. HBP is a serious risk factor for having a stroke – and it is possible to develop dementia after a stroke, depending on the severity and location of a stroke.  It’s important to be aware of the factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke — including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking – all of which also raise your risk for vascular dementia. Controlling these factors may help lower your chances of developing vascular dementia. I have written quite a few blogs on cardiovascular health. On my website, type “Heart” or “Cardiovascular” in the search bar.

3. Obesity

Obesity increases your risk of hypertension (mentioned above), diabetes (mentioned below), and is also accompanied by widespread inflammation in the body, including the brain.

4. Hearing Loss

Midlife hearing impairment is associated with volume losses of various parts of the brain, including a part of the brain called the hippocampus which plays an important role in many types of memory.  It isn’t uncommon for people with hearing loss to withdraw from conversations/social interactions, which might result in cognitive decline through reduced cognitive stimulation, Interestingly the report mentions a 25-year prospective study of 3,777 people aged 65 years or older that found increased dementia incidence in those with self-reported hearing problems except in those using hearing aids. Get your hearing tested and use a hearing aid if you need one!

5. Smoking

Is anyone surprised by the negative widespread impact smoking has on our health? That’s a no-brainer (pardon the pun)! Smoking is a serious risk factor for cardiovascular health, damaging blood vessels, and increasing the body’s toxic load.

6. Depression

This is a touchy one as it affects both our psychological and physical well-being. If you suffer from depression, or suspect someone you know does, talk about it and get support from health care practitioners, family, friends, and/or a support group. 

7. Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity increases the risk of other dementia risk factors, including diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Start moving! Even a 30 minute walk several times a week is a start!

8. Social Isolation

Social isolation negatively affects our cognitive reserve and behaviours that can support cognitive function. Seek support if you start feeling socially isolated – and if you know of someone who is socially isolated, reach out to them. is a great way to connect with people who share common interests.

9. Diabetes

Alzheimer’s is often referred to as ‘Type 3 Diabetes’. Diabetes damages blood vessel, including those in the brain. It also promotes insulin resistance in tissue cells, including brain cells, inhibiting cells to use glucose – their preferred source of energy. I have written quite a few blogs on sugar and its effect on our health. On my website, type “Sugar” or “Diabetes” in the search bar.

The three new risk factors that have been added in the latest update to the Lancet Commission (2020) are:

10. Excessive Alcohol Intake

This is associated with brain changes and cognitive impairment. Click here for Canada’s low risk alcohol drinking guidelines.

11. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBIs include concussions (a hot topic in recent years). The related increased dementia risk is associated with the severity and the number of TBIs. Do not ignore knocks to your noggin! Get checked out by a health care practitioner and take your time recovering.

12. Air Pollution

Air pollution increases the body’s toxic load and can promote neurodegenerative processes through cerebrovascular and cardiovascular disease. This one is a bit more difficult to control; however, perhaps we can keep it in mind when we choose where we want to live, work, and play – and HOW we choose to live, work, and play, making sure that our own personal choices aren’t contributing to the problem.

The report included the following diagram, which is an interesting summary of the significance of the potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia and when they occur during our life.

The report also mentions the negative effects of lack of sleep. This is a big issue for a lot of people given the daily stressors so many of us are faced with. For tips on improving sleep, read my blog entitled “Getting a Good Night’s Sleep”. You can also type SLEEP in the search bar on my website for more sleep tips.

The statement that upset me the most in the report was the following:

“All-cause dementia incidence is lower in people born more recently, probably due to educational, socio-economic, health care, and lifestyle changes; however, in these countries increasing obesity and diabetes and declining physical activity might reverse this trajectory.”

Why did this upset me? Because while many of the risk factors for dementia can be difficult for us to have control over (e.g. education, socio-economic, health-care accessibility, hearing loss, air pollution, head injuries), we typically have a great deal of control – if not total control – over physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes – and I know that obesity and diabetes can be prevented and reversed with nutrition!  Unfortunately, related to nutrition, the report stated that:

 “Nutrition and dietary components are challenging to research with controversies still raging around the role of many micronutrients and health outcomes in dementia.”

That was no big surprise to me. One reason why it’s challenging to properly research nutrition and dietary components is that they can’t be patented and turned into multi-billion dollar markets the way prescription drugs can! Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place and a time for medications, but they aren’t always the only option and, in many cases, they shouldn’t be the first option.

Finally, I want to add my own 2 cents and bring attention to three well-researched nutritional topics and their link to our cognitive health.

First, inflammation is recognized as a factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s; therefore, an anti-inflammatory diet and supplements can help. 

Second, your gut health affects your cognitive health.The Gut-Brain Axis (GBA) is a scientifically recognized 2-way biochemical communication pathway between our gut and our brain. The GBA has been shown to link cognitive centres of the brain with our gut health. There is a PILE of research that has been done, and that continues to be done, clearly demonstrating the link between the condition of our gut flora (the bacteria in our intestines) and our psychological and cognitive health. I’ve written quite a few blogs on the importance of our gut health. On my website, type “GUT HEALTH” in the search bar.

Third, much research shows that what is good for the heart is good for the brain – and much of that has to do with foods and supplements that provide loads of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. 

If you’re not sure how to positively impact the above 3 areas of your health, I would strongly suggest that you consult a Registered Nutritional Therapist, like yours truly. There is a lot of contradictory information out there on the World Wide Web – don’t put your health in the hands of Dr. Google! Consult someone who can separate fact from fiction and help you make meaningful, practical changes that will last a lifetime.

I’ll give you a bit of start by letting you know about 3 nutrients/supplements that will address each of the 3 topics listed above. These 3 nutrients/supplements are covered in detail in my free e-guide entitled “Foundational 4” which you received via email when you joined my email community. I’ve also written several blogs on each one, so you can search them on my website by using the search bar. They are:

  • Vitamin D (bio-emulsified)
  • Omega-3 (high quality, clean Neptune Krill Oil or Fish Oil)
  • Probiotics (clinically proven strains)

While we can get these nutrients from certain foods (and healthy food choices are the foundation of overall health), studies show that most us don’t get anywhere near enough through our meals/snacks. Given how critical each of these nutrients is to our overall health, including our brain/cognitive health, I supplement with them every day and strongly suggest my clients do too.

It’s important to know that not all brands of supplements are created equal – and many have never been reliably and/or validly tested to ensure they are delivering therapeutic benefits. I feel so strongly about the benefits of the supplements I personally take and make available to clients, that I am offering 25% off orders that include all three of these supplements from now until Dec 31 2020 to get you started. I can offer non-contact pick up or have them shipped to your home if you live in Canada for a flat $5 fee. For more information on this offer, email me at: with the subject line: ORDER REQUEST or call 613-299-4022.  Oh – and bonus benefit – these supplements also play a critical role in boosting our immunity – something that we all need right now.

Take control of what you can.





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