7 Surprising Things That Can Lead To Dementia
by Kristine Fellizar
A woman with dementia holding her head with her hand
BDG Media, Inc.

Dementia affects millions of people around the world. According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia is not a specific disease, but it is used to describe symptoms assciated with a decline in memory and other thinking-related issues. There are many different known causes for dementia such as traumatic brain injuries or neurological diseases. But according to experts, there are some surprising things linked to dementia that are also worth knowing about.

"Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning," Nicole Hanna, dementia educator and executive director of Vineyard Henderson, tells Bustle. "Of the 36 million people around the world who are estimated to have dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), as many as 28 million of them — or 75 percent — have not actually been diagnosed."

According to Hanna, women are statistically more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. There are things you can do to prevent dementia later on in life such as eating right, getting enough exercise, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

One of the most common things that can increase your risk of getting dementia is having high blood pressure. But that's far from the being the only thing. Here are some surprising things that can lead to dementia, according to research and experts.


Hearing Loss

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

A long-term study released on World Hearing Day 2018 found a "strong link" between hearing loss and dementia in older adults. As it was found, a third of participants who had hearing loss were more likely to have other major health issues such as depression, disability, and dementia.



Ashley Batz/Bustle

A 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found links between herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed that a gene variant that is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's is also associated with a greater likelihood of getting cold sores, which results from the HSV-1 virus.


Lack Of Sleep

Ashley Batz/Bustle

A 2018 study published in the journal Sleep found links between sleep disturbances and Alzheimer’s disease. Participants who had symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness and insomnia were three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as time went on.


High Blood Sugar Levels

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

A 2018 study published in the journal Diabetologia, found that people who had higher blood sugar levels had faster rates of cognitive decline than those with more normal levels. According to Hanna, dementia is known to be sort of like "diabetes of the brain."


Air Pollution

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

A 2017 study from the University of Southern California found links between air pollution and dementia in older women. According to the study, tiny air pollution particles that come from power plants and cars can travel from the nose to the brain. "Breathing in toxins can increase inflammation in the body," Hanna says. "If someone were to have the Alzheimer's gene, too much exposure over time to those toxic particles can exacerbate and promote the disease."


Sedating Medications

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Frequent or regular use of sedating medications like over the counter Benadryl or prescription Benzodiazepines can up your risk of getting dementia, a 2015 University of Washington study found. Many sedating medications are anticholinergic, or substances that blocks neurotransmitters in the central and peripheral nervous system. "The more anticholinergic the medication, the more sedation and difficulty with thinking," board certified adult psychiatrist, Neelima Kunam M.D., tells Bustle. "Cholinergic pathways are important in the parts of the brain that perform many of activities needed for clear thinking and memory." According to Dr. Kunam, long-term use of sedating medications can have an "accumulative effect."


Poor Oral Health

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"When people think of dementia and Alzheimer’s, they don’t first think about gum disease and oral health," Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of, tells Bustle. "However, research over the last several years suggests that advanced periodontitis (stage IV gum disease) might not just be associated with Alzheimer’s, it could potentially be the root cause." While more research needs to be done to prove causation, a study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association found links between tooth loss and dementia. People with the least amount of teeth were at the greatest risk for dementia. Another 2015 study found that P. gingivalis bacteria, which causes gum disease can easily travel to the brain and grow over time. This can increase inflammation in the brain and cause dementia-like symptoms.

Again, while these things may be linked to dementia, that does not mean that they guarantee it. By being mindful of your health, and talking to your doctor when something seems amiss, you can keep on top of it.