As the old song goes, little things mean a lot. New research from Canada suggests that a combination of relatively minor ailments such as skin, stomach or bladder problems, dentures that don't fit, arthritis, or trouble hearing can raise the risk of age-related dementia. (Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.) Published in the July 13, 2011 issue of Neurology, the analysis of data gathered from more than 7,200 people age 65 or older showed that a collection of minor ailments may have a cumulative effect on the risk of dementia. The study suggested that each extra health problem increased the risk of dementia by three percent compared to the risk of other seniors in the study with no minor health problems. All told, the healthy participants with no complaints had an 18 percent risk of developing dementia over the next decade while those with a dozen small problems had a 40 percent risk. The study author said that the findings seem to suggest that paying attention to general health and dealing with small problems may reduce the risk of dementia.
My take? This is an interesting study, but I think more research needs to be done to confirm the findings and to learn whether taking care of relatively small problems - such as ill-fitting dentures - really does affect the risk of dementia. In the past, researchers have focused on the increased risks posed by more serious disorders such as heart disease and diabetes. If you have your health problems - minor or major - under control, the best strategies for lowering the risk of dementia include fostering a positive attitude, maintaining your blood pressure in the healthy range, exercising regularly and keeping your mind active.