iral infections may raise the likelihood of dementia up to ’20 times’

Dr Zoe says walking can reduce risk of dementia

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Alzheimer’s describes a gradual decline of brain functions that severely threatens an individual’s independence over time. Though there is still no cure for the disease, people are strongly advised to modify risk factors to delay the disease’s onset. New findings suggest risk factors may comprise six viral infections that are widely seen in the general population.

The latest findings, published in the journal Neuron, have warned that viral infections contracted early in life could pave the way for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia.

The findings were deduced from an analysis of 300,000 patients whose medical records were assessed to see who had one of six neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • ALS
  • Generalised dementia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Vascular dementia.

During the analysis, it transpired that generalised dementia had the most poignant association with viral exposure.

The researchers spotted links between dementia and six different viral infections:

  • Viral encephalitis
  • Viral warts
  • All influenza
  • Influenza and pneumonia
  • Viral pneumonia and other viral diseases.

While looking more closely at these associations, scientists found that viral encephalitis patients were at least 20 times more likely to receive an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, compared to those who’d never had the virus.

The findings also suggested that severe cases of influenza were linked with the widest range of neurodegenerative disease risks.

Doctor Mike Nall, leader of the NIH Centre for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Advanced Analytics Expert Group said it had been suspected for years that an association between viral infection and neurodegeneration existed.

He explained: “Over the years, several lab-based experiments have suggested that viruses may be a risk factor for neurodegenerative disorders.

“What struck us is that we were able to obtain similar results by data mining medical records.”

Though the findings have pointed out a correlation, they are unable to prove any causal link.

Dr Nall added: “At this point, we are not addressing the mechanistic link, we are simply showing an association – a lot more work needs to be done.

“The results of this study provide researchers with several new critical pieces of the neurodegenerative disorder puzzle.”

He added: “In the future, we plan to use the latest data science tool to not only find more pieces but also help researchers how those pieces, including genes and other risk factors, fit together.”

Scientists have long suggested that a potential mechanism underpinning the link between viral conditions and dementia is inflammation.

There’s a wealth of evidence showing how detrimental viral inflammation is for various aspects of a person’s health, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Viral agents may also be capable of reaching the brain.

The Alzheimer’s Society explains that when viral agents reach the brain, they may activate specific immune cells known as microglia.

“When microglia are activated, they can cause inflammation in the brain,” explains the health body.

“This type of inflammation is thought to be involved in the progression of dementia by causing nerve cell death.”

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