New dementia risk score helps identify people at risk

Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK – A new dementia risk score, which draws on 11 mostly modifiable risk factors, identifies people at risk – from mid-life onwards – of developing the disease within the next 14 years, suggests a large long term study published in the open access journal BMJ Mental Health.

The UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score, or UKBDRS for short, outperformed three other widely used risk scores originally developed in Australia (ANU-ADRI), Finland (CAIDE), and the UK (DRS), the findings show.

Up to 50 million people worldwide are thought to be living with dementia, with numbers projected to triple by 2050, note the researchers. But targeting key risk factors, several of which involve lifestyle, could potentially avert around 40% of cases, they point out.

Various risk scores have been devised to try and predict a person’s chances of developing dementia while preventive measures are still possible.

But these scores have proved unreliable across different age groups and geographies, and some rely on expensive and invasive tests, precluding their use in primary care, they add.

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To try and get round these issues, the researchers drew on two large groups of 50 to 73-year olds participating in two long term studies—one group for developing the new risk score (UK Biobank study) and one for validating it (Whitehall II study).

In all, 220,762 (average age just under 60) people from the UK Biobank study and 2,934 (average age 57) from the Whitehall II study were included in the final analysis.

The researchers compiled a list of 28 established factors associated with a heightened or reduced risk of developing dementia, to which they applied a statistical method (LASSO regression) designed to identify and discard the least relevant factors, and so focus the score on the strongest predictors.

This produced 11 predictive factors for any type of dementia—the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS).

The 11 factors were:

  • age;
  • education;
  • history of diabetes;
  • history of/ current depression;
  • history of stroke;
  • parental dementia;
  • economic disadvantage (Townsend deprivation index);
  • high blood pressure;
  • high cholesterol;
  • living alone;
  • and male sex …
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