Richmond-Rakerd says mental disorders are salient early-warning signs for subsequent dementia. People with mental disorders could be encouraged to engage in health behaviors to reduce dementia risk—for instance, to increase their physical activity, which so far is one promising way to potentially help prevent dementia, the researchers say.
The mechanism for the association is not clear, but could involve several factors, says co-author Avshalom Caspi, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke.
For instance, a lifelong brain vulnerability may manifest itself as mental health problems earlier in life and dementia later in life. Or medication for mental disorders (such as antipsychotics) might increase the risk for dementia, he says.
The researchers caution that most people with mental-health problems will not develop dementia.
“Mental health problems are not a ‘life sentence’ that always results in dementia,” Richmond-Rakerd said.