13 Risk Factors of Dementia

This article discusses risk factors for dementia, categorizing them into controllable and uncontrollable factors such as physical activity, diet, and social engagement. It also explores the unproven link between aluminum and dementia. You will also find the current dementia numbers in Alberta.

Risk factors of dementia

As time and research progresses, it has been shown that certain factors put you at higher risk of dementia. There are multiple different types of dementia, each of which may have various risk factors (for example, Alzheimer’s disease.)

It’s not always as simple as asking, “What causes Alzheimer’s and dementia?” Because some risk factors can be altered by adjusting your lifestyle, and some are fixed, it’s vital to familiarize yourself with each factor to make the best decisions possible.

On this page, you will find the risk factors that cannot be altered, the ones that can, and some risk factors that require further research to be proven valid.

What is a risk factor?

-Something that increases your chances of developing a disease.

-This can include factors related to your lifestyle, genetic makeup, and environment.

-It’s important to note that because you may have some of these risk factors, it does not mean you will develop dementia.

-Equally, it is possible to develop dementia without having any of the risk factors.

Learning about which risk factors are fixed and which can be reduced allows you to make informed decisions about moving forward.

Risk factors that you can control

Research shows that approximately 40% of people living with dementia could be the result of these thirteen risk factors. 40% of all cases of dementia can be delayed or avoided by modifying our lifestyle choices. It is possible to reduce these risk factors with lifestyle adjustments.

Sedentary lifestyle

In ages 65 and up, the risk of developing dementia increases with low physical activity.


In ages 45-65, obesity plays a role in the risk of developing dementia. Obesity is also linked to type 2 diabetes, which is another risk factor.


In people aged 45-65 diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there is an increased risk of developing dementia, most specifically Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Poor diet

When looking at foods that cause Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, it’s noted that it is more prevalent in people who consume diets high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats. This has also been shown to be a risk factor for those with cardiovascular disease, as well.

High blood pressure

At ages 45-65, people are at higher risk of developing dementia, more specifically vascular dementia, when also living with high blood pressure (hypertension). This is because of the impact of high blood pressure on blood circulation through the heart and arteries.


It has been shown that people who smoke are at increased risk of developing dementia; however, the risk can be reduced by quitting smoking. It’s never too late!

Does alcohol cause Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia?

When it comes to alcohol use and dementia, drinking more than twelve alcoholic beverages per week heightens your risk of developing dementia.

Low cognitive engagement

Engaging in activities that stimulate the use of your brain promotes healthy brain cells, which could help to protect further brain cell damage caused by dementia.

Social isolation

Socializing regularly could not only reduce your risk for developing dementia and even slow the progression but can also improve risk factors surrounding hypertension, depression, and heart disease.


The correlation between dementia and depression is not fully developed. However, it is believed that depression (most specifically in mid to later life) can be both a risk factor for dementia as well as an early symptom.

Traumatic brain injury

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of brain injury?

Due to the potential harm associated with repetitive or severe head injuries, individuals who experience such trauma are more susceptible to the development of dementia.

Not only are athletes who take part in sports like boxing, soccer, hockey, and football at higher risk for brain injury but so are older adults because of their risk of falls.

Hearing loss

People living with mild hearing loss are at an increased risk for dementia. Hearing loss often impacts independence, socialization, and the ability to perform everyday activities.

Air pollution

While more research needs to be conducted to support the link between dementia and air pollution, it’s presumed that exposure to pollution from vehicle emissions could be a risk factor for dementia.

It’s never too late to take the power of your health back into your hands and make the necessary changes to heighten or maintain the health of your brain.

Find healthy tips that can be used by all in the family in our knowledge hub here Brain Healthy Tips

Risk factors that you cannot control


In 2020, an estimated 61.2% of people living with dementia in Alberta were female.

Women are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to men. Even though research is still in progress regarding this risk factor, things like changes in estrogen levels throughout a woman’s life and the fact that women tend to have more longevity could be possible reasons for this.

It’s noteworthy that women and men have the same risk factors for other types of dementia, and research is underway regarding non-binary people and their risk of dementia.


Some people believe Alzheimer’s is caused by genetics. While the role of genes is still being looked at, it’s been proven that most diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease are random, which means that they do not run in families. Only two to five percent of cases are inherited.

Over 70 genes have been found that could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—three genes (PSEN1, PSEN2, and APP) directly cause it.  Any alteration in these genes drastically increases the risk of developing familial Alzheimer’s disease, often before the age of 65. With that, it’s also been shown that if a parent has these genes, there is a 50% chance that their children will inherit this disease.

The rest of the genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease do pose a risk but are not a guarantee that it will develop. Some other forms of dementia run in families, such as forms of frontotemporal dementia.

Other risk factors

-Diagnoses like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV, and chronic kidney disease increase your risk of developing dementia

-Some developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, may also pose a risk.

How early can someone get Alzheimer’s disease or any dementia?

Some people wonder how early someone can get Alzheimer’s disease or a type of dementia. Although uncommon, dementia can be present in individuals under the age of 65, a condition referred to as young-onset dementia.

It’s important to note that dementia is not a normal part of aging, but it has been proven that age is the biggest risk factor for dementia.

-In Canadians over the age of 65, one in twenty have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

- Over 50,000 people live with dementia in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

-The risk of developing dementia doubles approximately every five years after 65.

-One in four Canadians over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease.

Unproven Risks

As mentioned earlier, some other risk factors require further research before being considered a definite link, but what we currently know can still be discussed.


Does aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia?

Many people wonder if aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It has been questioned as a link to dementia and studied for 40 years; presently, there is no proven evidence. However, there have been some discoveries creating discussions surrounding the topic.


-Some, but not all, people living with dementia have been found to have trace elements of aluminum in their brains.

-People who have been occupationally exposed to aluminum have not been shown to have increased diagnoses of dementia.

-While it’s been shown that aluminum can seep into brewed tea because tea leaves can hold increased trace elements, there isn’t any evidence to support that populations who consume more tea have more people living with dementia.

-An attempt at an animal study to learn about the effects of aluminum on the body was unfortunately unsuccessful and unreliable as it was only focused on one animal that was already susceptible to aluminum poisoning.

Aluminum in our bodies, cookware, other products, and the environment

Aluminum makes up eight percent of the earth’s surface and is also naturally found in the environment and our bodies. Naturally occurring levels are not harmful to us, and our kidneys play a vital role in flushing out the aluminum we are exposed to, allowing minimal absorption.

“Trace elements” is a term used to refer to aluminum in small amounts. Trace elements can be found in:

-our water and food

-some municipalities’ water treatment process


-deodorant, cosmetics, and other hygiene products.

-the air we breathe from dry soil, cigarette smoke, pesticide sprays, and aluminum-based paint

-some drugs to make them less irritating and more effective

Because the amount of aluminum in pots, pans, foil, and beverage cans is such a small percentage, it would be challenging to reduce exposure significantly by discontinuing these. However, we can make adjustments to which products we choose to use, the environments we put ourselves in, and what our lifestyle involves.

Many factors put us at risk for developing dementia. Some of these factors are things we can control, others we cannot, and some that are still being researched. By familiarizing yourself with the difference, you can empower yourself to make informed decisions about what you can control and potentially help someone else with what you’ve learned.

More Resources.

Downloadable pdf- Risk Factors for Dementia

Quick Facts- Understanding Genetics and Alzheimer's

Knowledge Hub- Brain Healthy Tips for Families

Dementia numbers in Alberta