A New Dementia Risk Study Finds 11 Key Causes of the Condition

Researchers have developed a method that can predict if someone will experience dementia within the next 14 years using the 11 dementia risk variables they have discovered. In British populations, the score has an accuracy of up to 80%. According to the researchers, it might serve as a preliminary dementia screening technique.

Dementia is a neurological disorder that impacts memory and cognitive abilities and affects millions of individuals worldwide. Since dementia is currently incurable, preventative measures are essential to minimize its effects on an individual’s overall wellness and quality of life.

Researchers have been trying to discover models that could predict dementia years before its onset. Such a model that can predict with a higher accuracy can help in preliminary screening of the condition among individuals.

Researchers from Oxford University and other institutions have made one such attempt and created a dementia risk score comprising 11 risk factors that can identify up to 80% of cases of dementia 14 years before symptoms appear [1]. They dubbed it the Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS).

What Previous Studies Have Indicated

Studies indicate that addressing 12 critical risk factors, such as poor levels of education, smoking, and hypertension, could prevent up to 40% of dementia cases [2].

Although several predictive models predict dementia risk, they frequently have substantial flaws. For instance, just eight of the 61 dementia risk scores examined in a systematic review have been verified by external samples [3]. The performance of individuals who had undergone external validation was frequently subpar and inconsistent. Furthermore, the majority of the developmental groups were from North America. It is still unknown if these risk scores apply to other populations.

The Current Study: The 11 Key Dementia Risk Factors

For the study, the researchers looked at medical records from 220,762 people with an average age of 60 who were part of the UK Biobank. They followed the individuals for 14 years.

They also generated a list of 28 dementia-related risk and preventive factors. They identified the following 11 risk factors that substantially predicted dementia risk after examining 80% of the healthcare data from the UK Biobank considering these variables.

  • Age (typically 65 and older)
  • Lack of education
  • History of diabetes
  • History of/current depression
  • History of stroke
  • Parental history of dementia
  • Economic disadvantage or poverty
  • Hypertension (High blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol
  • Living alone
  • Being male

The researchers initially compared them to the remaining 20% of the UK Biobank data to test the validity of these risk factors. They discovered that the UKBDRS accurately predicted the incidence of dementia in 80% of people.

They then examined external data from the Whitehall II research, which comprised 2,934 British civil officials with an average age of 57 at the start of the analysis, to test the risk score. They followed these individuals for 17 years. In the end, they discovered that the UKBDRS accurately predicted 77% of the dementia cases in this cohort.

According to sensitivity testing conducted by the researchers, the UKBDRS was the most accurate predictor of whether someone would experience dementia within the next 14 years.

They also stated that the UKBDRS produced equivalent results to APOE testing, which evaluates the presence of a significant genetic biomarker for dementia.

APOE testing forecasted 83% of dementia cases in the UK Biobank sample and 79% in the UK Whitehall II research.

The UKBDRS performed better than three other widely used dementia risk scores that had previously received external validation.

What are the limitations of the study?

According to the Medical News Daily, Dr. Joyce Gomes-Osman, vice-president of interventional therapy at Linus Health and physical therapist (who was not involved in the study), lauded the study’s “rich and unique” cohorts and meticulous methods. However, she pointed out that the results are limited because dementia was not identified in the population using gold-standard clinical procedures or evaluations [4].

The availability of hospital records and self-reported outcome indicators varied significantly between the two study groups, which is a further limitation.

While speaking to the Medical News Daily, Dr. Howard Pratt, a board-certified medical director at Community Health of South Florida (CHI) and a non-participant in the study, also highlighted the limitations. He stated that it is limited to the measures under consideration. However, because we don’t know what causes dementia, we don’t know if we’re asking all the appropriate questions or analyzing all the proper indicators while assessing dementia risk.

Can the UKBDRS Tool Help Diagnose and Prevent Dementia?

The UKBDRC may be helpful for preliminary screening, according to Dr. Katherine Ornstein, professor and director of the Center for Equity in Aging at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and a non-participant in the current study.

According to her, high-risk people might undergo extra testing, such as genetic or cognitive testing.
She added that another advantage of the tool is that it might assist people and medical professionals in identifying and changing healthy behaviors before the first symptoms of dementia appear.


  1. Anatürk, M., Patel, R., Ebmeier, K.P., Georgiopoulos, G., Newby, D., Topiwala, A., de Lange, A.M.G., Cole, J.H., Jansen, M.G., Singh-Manoux, A. and Kivimäki, M., 2023. Development and validation of a dementia risk score in the UK Biobank and Whitehall II cohorts. BMJ Ment Health, 26(1).
  2. Livingston, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S., Brayne, C., Burns, A., Cohen-Mansfield, J., Cooper, C. and Costafreda, S.G., 2020. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 396(10248), pp.413-446.
  3. Hou, X.H., Feng, L., Zhang, C., Cao, X.P., Tan, L. and Yu, J.T., 2019. Models for predicting risk of dementia: a systematic review. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 90(4), pp.373-379.
  4. The screening tool uses 11 risk factors to predict dementia with up to 80% accuracy. Medical News Daily. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/screening-tool-uses-11-risk-factors-to-predict-dementia-with-up-to-80-accuracy. Published Online: 31st August, 2023. Accessed: 1st September, 2023.
  5. Will you develop dementia? These 11 factors are strong predictors in middle age, scientists say. Fortune Well. https://fortune.com/well/2023/08/24/11-risk-factors-predict-dementia-middle-age/. Published Online: 25th August, 2023. Accessed: 1st September, 2023.
  6. A dementia risk study finds 11 key factors behind the condition. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/aug/24/dementia-risk-study-finds-11-key-factors-behind-condition. Published Online: 24th August, 2023. Accessed: 1st September, 2023.
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