The conversations of life

Can a genetic test predict your risk of dementia?


This week, ABC Radio aired a story about a genetic test for dementia developed by Danish researchers which they say can predict the disease 10 years in advance.

But how accurate is this testing?

Dr Ian Harding at Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience told us that while there is one gene – called ApoE – which was looked at in this study and is known to affect our dementia risk, it only accounts for about seven per cent of our risk.

More comprehensive genetic testing can predict up to 25 to 30 per cent of our risk – but it’s still nowhere near enough to give doctors a confident picture of what the future has in store.

So, what can we do to cut our risk for dementia now?

Around 35 per cent of our risk is linked to health and lifestyle factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, social isolation, and hearing loss and Dr Harding says our focus needs to be on these.

Being active key to prevention

“Believe it or not, although the number of people living with dementia is rapidly increasing due to our ageing population, our individual risk levels for dementia in Australia are actually slowly decreasing at the moment,” he says.

This is due to lower smoking rates and better management of other chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure – but he says we are at serious risk of losing these gains thanks to a lack of exercise.

“It cannot be overstated the importance of being physically and socially active (exercising the body and the mind!), not smoking, and taking care of your heart and overall health,” he says.

And while middle age – from about 45 years – is a key time to make changes that will help us to maintain brain health as we age, Dr Harding says that doesn’t mean “the horse has already fled the barn” as we move into older age.

“Preventative measures are never too late,” he adds.

Good to know.

September is Dementia Awareness Month.

Dr Ian Harding from the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience

With a background in nursing, Annie has spent over 20 years working in the health industry, including the coordination of medical support for international TV productions and major stadium events, plus education campaigns with a number of national health organisations. In recent years, she has also taken time out of the workforce to be a full-time carer, giving her first-hand experience of the challenges and rewards of this role.

Leave A Reply