Reduce the risk of developing dementia

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) shows 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

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

Infographic - 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia

This infographic outlines modifiable risk factors for dementia outlined in The Lancet Commission report, which they say could prevent or delay up to 35% of dementia cases. They are:

  • less education
  • hypertension
  • hearing impairment
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • depression
  • physical inactivity
  • diabetes
  • infrequent social contact
  • excessive alcohol intake
  • head injury in mid-life
  • exposure to air pollution in later life.

Download the infographic

World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines

These WHO Guidelines, published in May 2019, provide the knowledge base for health-care providers to advise people on what they can do to reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia. 

The reduction of risk factors for dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to dementia. 

Read more

Health Coalition Aotearoa

Alzheimers NZ is a member of Health Coalition Aotearoa. Unhealthy diets, high BMI, tobacco, and alcohol contribute about one third of the overall preventable premature death and disability in New Zealand, yet less than a half a percent of the health budget is spent on preventing that damage.  As a collective we strive to prevent harm from unhealthy commodities and to strengthen the foundations of public health. Find out more.