Teen Habits and Brain Health

Dementia may be higher among young men with early substance abuse and other risk factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being mentally fit depends upon a number of factors. Some of that mental fitness is determined by genetics, some by daily choices and habits — good ones and bad.

For men diagnosed earlier than usual with dementia, a new study cited nine factors as possible contributors to the disease.  Some of the most striking factors include alcohol abuse during the teen years, strokes and the use of medications typically prescribed to treat mental illness.

"Ask your doctor about preventing dementia."

Peter Nordstrom, PhD, of Umeå University in Sweden, was lead author of the study.

Dr. Nordstrom and his research team analyzed the medical records of almost 490,000 men who'd been drafted into the Swedish armed services when they were 18.

These men went into the military over a 37-year period that ended in December 1979.  487 of the men were diagnosed with dementia by the time they were about 54 years old — an early age for dementia to develop.

The researchers wrote that in almost 70 percent of those cases, nine factors were identified as links to early-onset dementia. The factors included alcohol and drug addiction, stroke, high blood pressure, family health history and use of medications prescribed to treat mental illness.

Compared to men without those risk factors, the researchers found that:

  • Drinking too much alcohol raised the risks of early-onset dementia almost five-fold.
  • Having suffered a stroke roughly tripled the risks for early-onset dementia.
  • Using anti-psychotic medications roughly tripled the risks for early-onset dementia.
  • Being depressed raised the risks almost 90 percent.
  • Having a father with dementia raised the risks by 65 percent.
  • Drug addiction raised the risks by 54 percent.
  • Low cognitive function at the time when they were drafted into military service raised the risks by 26 percent.
  • Being of less than average height raised the risks by 16 percent.
  • Having high blood pressure raised the risks by 9 percent.

"Nine independent risk factors were identified that accounted for most cases of [young-onset dementia] in men. These risk factors were multiplicative, most were potentially modifiable, and most could be traced to adolescence, suggesting excellent opportunities for early prevention,” the researchers wrote.

"Such efforts would be of great importance, given the consequences of [young onset dementia] for the patient, family, and society, including a high risk of early death as demonstrated in the present study," they wrote.

A total of 26,105 participants had died by the time the study ended in December 2011. Alcholism posed the highest risk for death, while dementia posed the second highest risk, the researchers wrote.

Dementia that is diagnosed before a person reaches age 65 is considered early onset.

Dementia, a brain disorder marked by severe loss of memory, intellectual and other functions, affects an estimated 35.6 million people worldwide, the researchers wrote. By 2050, that group is expected to number 115 million people.

This study was published August 12 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Swedish Research Research Council and Swedish Dementia Foundation funded the study.

The researchers reported that they had no investments or other financial interests that might shape the study's outcome and design.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 12, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013