Dementia is a term used to describe a handful of health conditions with varying symptoms. You’re probably most familiar with memory loss, a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Whether you’ve cared for a family member with this condition or you’ve only seen it on TV, you’re likely curious — or worried — about your chances of developing it.
Data over the decades reveal there are certain states where you’re more likely to develop dementia. In fact, there are 11 states that are concerning. Let’s take a quick look to find out if you live in one of them — and how to decrease your risk.
What are the biggest dementia risk factors?
What puts you at higher risk — even if you eat right, exercise, and manage stress throughout your life? Healthline says both age and genetics majorly impact your risk. The older you are, the higher your chances of exhibiting symptoms — though middle-aged adults aren’t completely immune. If dementia runs in your family, you’re more likely to develop it, too. Unfortunately, where you live might also matter.
Next: One condition became so common in some states that experts gave them their own name.
What is the U.S. Stroke Belt?
According to the Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention Center, the Stroke Belt involves 11 specific U.S. states in which stroke risk is 34% higher than anywhere else in the country. People who live in these states also die of heart disease more often than those in other states. These two increased risk factors combined could explain why dementia rates could be higher if you live in the Stroke Belt. Research published in JAMA Neurology suggests you’re at greater risk in the following states.
Next: Arkansas is the first state on our list, but No. 5 has twice as many people with dementia.
Millions of Americans live with dementia today, and these numbers could increase as the years go on. It’s estimated that 55,000 people living in Arkansas alone, aged 65 and older, will have dementia by the end of 2017. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and prevalent form of dementia, so these statistics don’t even take into account cases of non-Alzheimer’s dementia and related conditions.
Next: If you live in this state, your stroke risk — and your risk of developing dementia — is unreal.
If you live in Mississippi, your stroke risk is higher than anyone living in the other 49 U.S. states. In terms of dementia risk, 52,000 older adults experienced Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. Strokes can prevent blood from supplying the brain with oxygen and nutrition, which significantly increases a person’s risk of developing cognitive decline, brain damage, dementia, and other serious health complications.
Next: Physical inactivity, and living in this state, prove to be a terrible combination.
In Lousiana, 86,000 adults 65 and older had Alzheimer’s in 2016. Experts predict this number will rise to over 110,000 by 2025. About 30% of Louisiana’s general population self-reports physical inactivity, a major risk factor for experiencing cognitive decline in old age. The two could share an important link.
Next: Have high blood pressure? If you live in this state, you’re at risk for multiple diseases.
If you live in Alabama, and your doctor says you have high blood pressure, pay attention. About 89,000 older adults lived with Alzheimer’s in the state in 2016 — and heart problems could be to blame. As in most U.S. states, heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in Alabama, affecting large percentages of the state’s population every year.
Next: Over 2,500 people in this state died from dementia complications in 2016.
In 2016, 110,000 Tennessee residents over 65 had Alzheimer’s disease. About 2,500 of those individuals died because of dementia-related complications, making it the state with the No. 6 highest Alzheimer’s-related mortality rate in the country.
Next: High rates of heart disease impact residents of this state in many devastating ways.
Approximately 69,000 older adults in Kentucky lived with Alzheimer’s in 2016. Rates of heart disease in this state have been high for over a decade, with thousands hospitalized as a result of the condition every year in Kentucky alone. Heart disease is a major risk factor for various forms of dementia, as the brain depends on adequate blood flow to remain healthy over a person’s lifetime.
Next: Dementia doesn’t just affect people in the south.
This is the only Midwestern state in the U.S. that experiences exceptionally high rates of dementia and dementia-related mortality. In 2016, 110,000 older adults lived with Alzheimer’s disease, causing the state to spend over $900 million in Medicare costs alone.
Next: High smoking rates might contribute to this state’s risk.
It’s estimated that over 140,000 older adults in Virginia will live with Alzheimer’s-specific dementia by the end of 2017. Nearly 2,000 of those living with the health condition will die from it in the same year. Known for their high rates of active tobacco and cigarette use, it’s likely this state’s high percentage of Alzheimer’s patients could be related to unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Next: Heading south for retirement might not be in your best interest.
9. North Carolina
The Carolinas are great states to live in when you retire — unless you want to die of something other than Alzheimer’s disease, that is. With 160,000 Alzheimer’s patients 65 and older in 2016, your chances of avoiding dementia in this state aren’t that great. Nearly 3,000 North Carolina residents died of Alzheimer’s disease and related complications in 2013.
Next: Thinking of heading south? Your outlook won’t improve much.
10. South Carolina
Moving from North to South Carolina won’t improve your outlook by much. About 84,000 South Carolina residents over 65 lived with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2013, this was the No. 6 leading cause of death in the state, with the No. 8 highest Alzheimer’s death rate across the U.S.
Next: Obesity rates — and dementia risk — soared in this state in 2016.
In 2016, there were 130,000 reported Alzheimer’s cases in Georgia in people 65 and over alone. Approximately 31% of adults living in Georgia were obese in 2016, which speaks to an increased risk of chronic disease and other health conditions overall. You are more likely to have a chronic condition like heart disease if you are overweight or obese as an adult — also elevating your dementia risk.
Next: What causes dementia and how to decrease your risk.
What causes dementia?
According to Mayo Clinic, dementia develops in adults with damaged nerve cells in their brains. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease display buildup of plaque in certain brain areas, which affects memory. Blood vessel damage, impacting the brain’s blood supply, affect patients with vascular dementia.
Next: Here’s what to do if you live in a high-risk state and want to decrease your dementia risk.
How to decrease your dementia risk
There are a number of lifestyle factors that put you at higher risk of cognitive decline later in your life. Thankfully, it’s simpler than you think to combat these factors. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting your smoking habit, drinking less alcohol, and spending time outdoors can decrease your dementia risk. Do your best to avoid fried and highly processed foods, get exercising, and spend time with loved ones so you can live a longer, healthier life.
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