Currently there is no effective medication for dementia treatment, so identifying life-related risk factors, including some that are modifiable, may provide important strategies for reducing risk of dementia. Now, a new study co-authored by a Boston University School of Health (BUSPH) researcher has found that age, marital status, body mass index, and amount of sleep can all have an impact on a person’s risk for dementia.
“This study is the first step in applying machine learning approaches to identifying new combinations of factors that are linked to increased risk of dementia later in life,” says senior author Dr. Rhoda Au, professor of epidemiology at BUSPH and of anatomy and neurobiology at the Boston University School of Medicine. “By focusing on modifiable risk factors, we are hoping to identify disease risk factors that are amenable to change, enabling the possibility of preventing dementia.”
Researchers analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study to identify new combinations of risk factors that are linked to increased risk of dementia in later life. They found that greater age was strongly associated with dementia, as was a marital status of “widowed,” lower BMI, and having experienced less sleep at mid-life.
According to the researchers, what makes their approach unique is the focus on information that is readily available to any primary care physician and doesn’t require specialized training or expensive testing, as well as using machine learning to help identify these factors. “We wanted to identify information that any physician or even non-physician has easy access to in determining potential increased future risk for dementia,” says Dr. Au. “Most dementia screening tools require specialized training or testing, but the front line for screening are primary care physicians or family members.”