"The idea is to have a simple tool to predict the risk for diseases, like you have for cardiovascular diseases or diabetes," said lead researcher Miia Kivipelto, from the Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institute in Sweden. "But for dementia there has been nothing like this. The idea to put this information together and have an overall estimation for dementia risk is new."
Scientists used data from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia study, which looked at nearly 1,500 middle-aged people from Finland, and then 20 years later reassessed them for signs of dementia.
From the results, researchers were able to create a score-based system to determine chances of a middle-aged person developing dementia in their later years. Along with known risk factors such as age and education level, the test subjects who had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity were more likely to suffer from dementia in later in life.
"We hope physicians could use this system to find people who are at a higher risk of developing dementia at later life," Kivipelto said, adding that doctors could advise patients of necessary lifestyle changes to lower their weight or blood pressure.
"What this test really indicates," explained Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate, "is that dementia can be prevented. The condition is the metabolic result of following poor health habits for a lifetime. If you change the health habits early on, dementia can be readily avoided."
Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said that he did not believe the test -- published in the journal Lancet Neurology -- was ready for widespread implementation just yet.
"The proposed test is still a somewhat blunt instrument, because it picks up too many people who may not develop dementia, so much more work is needed to improve and validate its results," he said. "New developments that encourage living a healthy life style are an important step towards combating dementia.
"We recommend that people take regular exercise, eat healthily, make sure they get their blood pressure checked and take part in social activities."
The Mental Health Foundation agrees, stating that taking responsibility for diet is a necessary step for the general public to reduce their risk of dementia later in life.