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Identifying dementia risk factors early could help reduce risk

Identifying dementia risk factors early could help reduce risk. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have used machine learning to find previously unknown combinations of risk factors which lead to a higher risk of developing dementia.

The leading cause of dependence and disability among senior adults worldwide is dementia, and there is no medical treatment currently available.

“This study is the first step in applying machine learning approaches to identifying new combinations of factors that are linked to increased risk of dementia later in life,” explained study co-author Dr. Rhoda Au.

“By focusing on modifiable risk factors, we are hoping to identify disease risk factors that are amenable to change, enabling the possibility of preventing dementia.”

The team obtained data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) to analyze demographic and lifestyle factors recorded from 1979 to 1983 which led to dementia later in life.

The study revealed that those who were at a higher risk for dementia had a combination of some of the following risk factors: older age, lower BMI, less sleep reported during mid-life, and a marital status of “widowed.”

The researchers said that their approach is unique because it is focused on information that is readily available to any primary care physician and does not require specialized training or expensive testing.

“We wanted to identify information that any physician or even non-physician has easy access to in determining potential increased future risk for dementia,” said Dr. Au.

“Most dementia screening tools require specialized training or testing, but the front line for screening are primary care physicians or family members. This was also an initial attempt to apply machine learning methods to identify risk factors.”

The experts explained that this research has the potential to lead to simple and inexpensive assessments during midlife that could be used to help modify the risk of dementia later in life.

The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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