As yet, no single factor has been identified as the cause of dementia, and there is no cure. But there are ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia by making a few simple lifestyle changes.
The World Alzheimer Report 2014 (PDF), titled Dementia Risk Reduction: An analysis of protective and modifiable factors, released for World Alzheimer’s Month 2014, indicates that there are a number of simple lifestyle changes we can all make to reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life.
The general rule of thumb is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. And it’s never too late to start.
Five small changes to make today:
1. Look after your heart
Certain lifestyle choices can affect the health of your heart. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, as not only do these increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes, they increase the chances of developing dementia later on in life. As well as being bad for your heart and lungs and putting you at risk of cancer and stroke, smoking has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Giving up smoking can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia. It is also recommended to limit alcohol consumption to two standard drinks on each drinking occasion.
2. Be physically active
Leading an active lifestyle can help control your blood pressure and weight, as well as reducing the risk of type two diabetes and some forms of cancer. Some evidence also suggests that being physically active can help to reduce the risk of dementia, and getting active is proven to make us feel good, and can be a great way of socialising. Thirty minutes of gentle exercise such as brisk walking, five days a week is all you need to improve your health. If you have any health conditions that limit your ability to exercise make sure you talk to your doctor first.
3. Follow a healthy diet
Our body and brain both rely on food for fuel. In order to keep it functioning properly we need to consume a healthy, balanced diet. While we need to do more studies into the benefits of specific foods or supplements, we do know that eating lots of fatty and processed foods which are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, and is best avoided. There is good evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing some forms of dementia. Remember, what is good for the heart is good for the brain.
4. Challenge your brain
By challenging the brain with new activities you can help build new brain cells and strengthen the connections between them. This may counter the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia pathologies. Activities that stretch your mind such as reading, crosswords and puzzles, and activities such as bridge, mahjong and chess are excellent. By challenging your brain you can learn some great new things such as learning a new language or taking up a new hobby or sport.
5. Enjoy social activities
Social engagement may also be beneficial to brain health because it stimulates our brain reserves, helping to reduce the risk of developing dementia and depression. Remaining socially engaged and an active part of the community is important for people with dementia, so try and make time for friends and family. You can even combine your social activities with physical and mental exercise through sport or other hobbies.
Download information on reducing your risk
A3 Poster (pdf)
A4 Bulletin (pdf)
Print ready files (with bleed)
If you are worried that you or someone you know is showing signs of dementia, see your GP for a full assessment.
For information and support, contact your local Alzheimers organisation.