Dementia is the nation’s second leading cause of death and there are currently an estimated 472,000 Australians living with dementia.
That number is expected to increase to 590,000 by 2028 and to 1,076,000 by 2058 unless there is a significant medical breakthrough.
The fear of developing dementia is similarly crippling for thousands of older Australians with a family history of dementia. But what if there was a calculator that could predict your risk of dementia and get you started on minimising the risk factors?
There is, and it is freely available.
Canadian researchers have built and validated an online calculator that assists individuals aged 55 and over to better understand their brain health and how they can reduce their risk of being diagnosed with dementia in the next five years.
The calculator has been developed by scientists at The Ottawa Hospital, the University of Ottawa, the Bruyere Research Institute and ICES (previously known as the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences) and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The report defines dementia as an umbrella term for loss of memory and other thinking abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It says there is no cure but about a third of dementia cases may be prevented through lifestyle changes and effective management of such conditions as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The researchers based the dementia calculator, which is freely available at projectbiglife.ca, on survey data from more than 75,000 Ontarians.
“What sets this dementia risk calculator apart is that you don’t need to visit a doctor for any tests,” said Dr Stacey Fisher, the lead author of the study who performed the research largely in Ottawa while she was a Ph.D. student. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and Public Health Ontario. “People already have all the information they need to complete the calculator in the comfort of their home.”
Factors in the Dementia Population Risk Tool:
- smoking status and lifetime exposure
- alcohol consumption
- physical activity
- sense of belonging
- immigration status
- socioeconomic status of the neighbourhood
- activities where assistance is needed
- marital status
- number of languages spoken
- health conditions.
The calculator can be used by individuals to assess their dementia risk and help them modify their lifestyle. The researchers say the tool has great value in that individuals can assess their risk and act accordingly, and policy makers can use it to do the same thing for the general population.
It is regarded as the first tool designed to predict dementia at a population level. It can predict the number of new cases in the community, identify higher-risk populations and inform dementia prevention strategies. By using regularly collected health data and surveys, population health experts have all the information they need to use the algorithm, the researchers say.
“This tool will give people who fill it out clues [as] to what they can do to reduce their personal risk of dementia,” said Dr Peter Tanuseputro, senior author of the study, and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, investigator at the Bruyere Research Institute, adjunct scientist at ICES and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it clear that sociodemographic variables like ethnicity and neighbourhood play a major role in our health. It was important to include those variables in the tool, so policy makers can understand how different populations are impacted by dementia and help ensure that any prevention strategies are equitable.”
The dementia calculator will be added to a list of existing calculators on Project Big Life that help Canadians estimate their life expectancy based on habits and lifestyle choices.
Researchers say that the calculator can be adapted for any of the 100 countries around the world that collect health survey data.
Are you fearful you will develop dementia? Are you already modifying the risk factors? Will you take a look at the calculator? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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