cyclingA new analysis of existing studies has indicated potential environmental factors that may alter the risk of dementia, according to a study published in BMC Geriatrics.

The researchers performed a systematic search of existing studies that had looked at environmental factors and dementia risk, and found 60 that were eligible for inclusion in the new analysis. They classed evidence as moderate even if only one study had reported a factor as having an association with dementia, and for many factors only one study had been performed.

The authors report moderate associations with factors such as tobacco smoke, pesticides, solvents and vitamin D deficiency, although they acknowledge that firm evidence to link these factors directly with dementia are still lacking.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Dementia is one of the most feared conditions and public interest in what might influence dementia risk is understandably high. This new analysis of existing studies has identified a shortlist of environmental factors that could be associated with dementia risk, but strong evidence behind these factors is still lacking. Many of the factors identified in this study have only been observed in a single study, or multiple studies have presented a mixed picture, making it hard to draw firm conclusions.

“It is important to remember that association does not necessarily indicate causality, and that diseases like Alzheimer’s have a complex mix of risk factors including age and genetics. Alzheimer’s Research UK has been working with experts to identify key challenges in risk reduction research that could be tackled to boost the number of studies in this important area. We are working with researchers across the globe to develop new ways to support the most promising research into dementia risk reduction.

“This study indicated an association between vitamin D deficiency and increased dementia risk. While the reasons for this relationship are unclear, current government advice recommends that people consider a daily supplement of vitamin D, particularly if they are unlikely to gain enough through their diet and daily exposure to sunlight. Anyone concerned that they may be deficient in vitamin D should speak to their GP.”