Risk Factors for Dementia Explored: Age, Genetics, and More

The adage “knowledge is power” is especially true regarding dementia. It’s an intimidating disease, but your risk of developing the condition can become more manageable once you understand the critical role risk factors play.

There’s no doubt that dementia is an intimidating and distressing health condition. However, understanding the risk factors for dementia can help to remove some fear and uncertainty. 

Beyond being older in age or genetically predisposed, studies suggest lifestyle habits may play an important role when it comes to dementia risk factors. This means many modifiable health habits can help reduce your level of risk. 

So, join us as we address common questions about dementia, such as “Is dementia hereditary?” We’ll also explore how you can manage your risk of developing the disease.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia describes a category of health conditions and a range of symptoms linked to loss of cognitive function, essentially affecting a person’s ability to think, reason, or recall specific memories. It occurs because certain brain regions become compromised, and connections between brain regions stop working the way they should. 

Although dementia can range in severity at the time of diagnosis, it is progressive and can affect many aspects of life. Notably, it can complicate social activities and make independent living especially difficult. 

You’ve likely heard of memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. However, there are multiple types of dementia, each with distinct differences. 

Common forms of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: occurs when a particular type of protein builds up in the brain
    • Frontotemporal dementia: a rarer form, also due to abnormal amounts of a specific protein in the brain, occurring in people younger than 60 years old
  • Lewy body dementia: occurs when abnormal protein deposits (“Lewy bodies”) affect chemical balances in the brain 


  • Vascular dementia: caused by conditions that damage the brain’s blood vessels or stop the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain
  • Mixed dementia: diagnosed when two or more dementias present together 

What Are the Risk Factors for Dementia? 

Risk factors are aspects of health that may increase your chance of developing a disease, such as dementia. Those most likely to develop the disease share some common risk factors. While some risk factors—like age and genetics—can’t be controlled, others are modifiable—like lifestyle habits—can be managed. 


Although potentially the most obvious of all the risk factors, age plays a crucial role in how likely someone is to develop dementia. Like other organs and body systems, the brain and brain function change with age. However, dementia is not a standard or expected part of aging.

Another critical influence of aging is that a lifetime of poor habits can build up. For example, eating poorly and avoiding exercise can increase dementia risk in later years. 


An additional known factor that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is genetics. Since genes are “blueprints” for life that have been passed down, there’s not much you can do to alter them. Unfortunately, even small changes in genetic code can cause big impacts when it comes to disease. 

However, you may have some say in their expression since lifestyle factors can influence if some genes are turned on or off. In other words, you can “make the most of the cards you were dealt.”

Race and Gender

Two additional aspects that may be associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia are race and gender. Higher rates of dementia have been observed among the following populations: 

  • African Americans
  • Alaska Natives
  • American Indians

Gender may also influence dementia risk since rates of specific risk factors can be different between men and women. There’s still much to learn, and researchers are working to discern differences between different populations. 


Certain lifestyle factors also play a role in developing dementia. For example, high blood pressure, which can strain blood vessels that supply the brain, has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Luckily, living healthily—such as eating a well-balanced diet and regularly exercising—can go a long way in controlling blood pressure and reducing dementia risk. 

Is Dementia Hereditary? 

Although inherited, progressive brain diseases (like Huntington’s disease), dementia is not considered hereditary. As mentioned above, genetics may play a role, but researchers are uncertain exactly how in many cases. This means that having a relative with dementia may slightly increase your risk, but this doesn’t mean you will develop the disease. 

Many lifestyle factors may mitigate any genetic risk you possess. For this reason, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association caution against genetic testing for risk, although it is an available option. In essence, although having specific genes increases risk, it’s not the only factor that increases risk, and lifestyle changes can make a world of difference.  

How Lifestyle Choices Impact Dementia Risk

As mentioned above, lifestyle choices can significantly impact dementia risk. Lifestyle choices encompass many areas of living—such as eating, exercising, sleeping and stress. Years of poor lifestyle choices can add up and ultimately raise your risk of developing dementia and other chronic diseases. 

Luckily, you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by living a healthy lifestyle. For example, staying mentally active can help ignite areas of your brain and improve its function. While lifestyle choices aren’t sure-fire ways to prevent dementia’s onset, they can be crucial to managing disease risk and the disease itself.   

Reduce Dementia Risk Factors with a Healthy Lifestyle

If you’re looking for ways to lower dementia risk through modifiable changes, the following methods are a great place to start. 


It’s no secret that what you eat can greatly influence your level of health. This can be especially true when it comes to dementia risk. Diet can also help to manage related risk factors for disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 

It’s suggested to eat in a way that keeps blood pressure and blood sugar at a manageable level. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important since excess weight can aggravate other health problems. It’s also important to moderate alcohol consumption, along with ceasing smoking.  

If this sounds like a complex balance to strike, simply aim to eat more fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. These foods provide many essential vitamins and minerals to keep your body in tip-top shape. 

Physical Activity 

A recent study found that adults engaged in more sedentary behaviors seem to have a higher incidence of dementia. In other words, a lack of physical activity may contribute to development of dementia. 

Even more gentle forms of exercise, such as yoga or gardening, can be effective. Plus, they can help prevent the development of other diseases, like heart disease. A general goal to aim for is 150 minutes a week, or about 20-30 minutes per day. 

Mental Activity 

Mental exercise is also recommended to keep the brain functioning normally.Keep in mind that mental activities don’t have to be intense to be effective!  

Even leisure activities, such as reading or playing games, can stimulate the brain. Additionally, crucial to both mental and physical health is managing stress and sleep. 

Need inspiration? Try a new hobby or learn a new skill. Staying connected and having regular conversations with friends may also help. 

Managing Other Health Conditions 

Since symptoms of dementia can overlap with other conditions, it’s important to manage other aspects of your health, too. Attending regular doctor’s appointments can help you keep tabs on important health metrics, and may be helpful if you’re managing multiple conditions or medications. 

Risk Factors for Dementia: Final Takeaways

Many factors can influence your risk of developing dementia. While some factors, like age and genes, can’t be controlled, there are many modifiable factors that can. Luckily, lifestyle choices and habits fall into this category! Help minimize your risk through a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine, and some mental stimulation. 

As with many other health conditions, working closely with your healthcare team can help you make meaningful changes and may help make mitigating risk more manageable. 


Alzheimers.gov. Can I Prevent Dementia? Alzheimers.gov. Accessed October 2023.  

National Institute on Aging. What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis. Nia.nih.gov. Published December 2022. 

Sierra C. Hypertension and the Risk of Dementia. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2020;7:5.