Swedish scientist Laura Fratiglioni has shown that everyone can minimize his or her risk of being affected. Factors from blood pressure and weight to the degree of physical and mental activity can influence cognitive functioning as one gets older. The lengthening of the average life span in the population has caused an increase in the prevalence of aging related disorders, one of which is cognitive impairment and dementia. An expert panel estimates that worldwide more than 24 million people are affected by dementia, most suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In the more developed countries, 70 percent of the persons with dementia are 75 years or older.Age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia. But there is growing evidence that the strong association with increasing age can be, at least partially, explained by a life course cumulative exposure to different risk factors.
Laura Fratiglioni’s research group at Karolinska Institutet is a leader in identifying the risk factors that lie behind developing dementia and using this knowledge to develop possible preventative strategies. The group’s research has shown that the risk is partly determined by an individual genetic susceptibility, and that active involvement in mental, physical and social activities can delay the onset of dementia by preserving cognitive functions. Further education early in life has a protective effect, and the group’s research has shown that it is never too late to get started.