Calculator can predict risk of being diagnosed with dementia

You can count on Canadian researchers to build a calculator that can predict your chances of developing dementia.

Researchers at the Ottawa Hospital, the University of Ottawa, the Bruyère Research Institute and ICES developed an online calculator empowering people over 55 to understand how they can reduce the risk of being diagnosed with dementia in the next five years.

This is the first tool designed to predict dementia, which refers to loss of memory and other thinking abilities that interferes with daily life, on a population level.

Over 6.2 million Americans over age 65 live with dementia and, in Canada, more than 76,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed yearly. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths increased 16% in the US.

The calculator — or the Dementia Population Risk Tool (DemPoRT) — can estimate the number of new cases in the community, identify higher-risk populations and inform dementia prevention strategies.

“What sets this dementia risk calculator apart is that you don’t need to visit a doctor for any tests,” said Dr. Stacey Fisher, the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. “People already have all the information they need to complete the calculator in the comfort of their home.”

About a third of dementia may be preventable through lifestyle factors like physical activity, healthy eating, and reduced alcohol and tobacco use.
About a third of dementia may be preventable through lifestyle factors like physical activity, healthy eating and reduced alcohol and tobacco use.
Project Big Life

The calculator takes into account factors like age, diet, stress, smoking status and exposure, and other health conditions. The tool, based on survey data from over 75,000 Ontarians, also factors in ethnicity, immigration status, education and the number of languages spoken, among other socioeconomic variables — many of which can impact general brain power and function.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it clear that sociodemographic variables like ethnicity and neighborhood play a major role in our health,” said Dr. Peter Tanuseputro, senior author of the study. “It was important to include those variables in the tool so policymakers can understand how different populations are impacted by dementia, and help ensure that any prevention strategies are equitable.”

There are no cures or treatments for dementia. However, a third of those developing the condition could have delayed or stopped it entirely by changing their lifestyle. These prevention mechanisms include heightened physical activity, healthy eating and reduced alcohol and tobacco use — as well as managing conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Going forward, the team wants policymakers to use the algorithm to assess dementia risk among a general population, not just within individuals.

The dementia calculator will be added to a list of existing calculators on Project Big Life. Others include life expectancy, heart and stroke and elder life.