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7 tips on how to prevent dementia and reduce your risk in older age

7 tips on how to prevent dementia and reduce your risk in older age

1 in 3 people in the UK will develop dementia in their lifetime. While a large proportion of dementia diagnoses are unavoidable, research does suggests that there are some steps we can take to help minimise the chances of developing dementia. Nothing comes with a 100% guarantee and seemingly the best advice for now is to live a healthy and balanced life. However, below are some interesting and helpful suggestions which might help to reduce the risk of developing and may even help  to prevent dementia. 

Much of the information on this page has come from The Lancet Commission Report (2020) which lists 9 modifiable risk factors (pollution, early age education haven’t made our list because we don’t think these are things that you can change easily).

Tips to reduce the risk of dementia

1. Physical Activity

Regular exercise not only improves cardiovascular, bone and muscle health, but it has been proven to benefit mental health and help to reduce depression and dementia (The Lancet Commission Report). Any exercise is better than none, whether it be a few walks per week, a low impact exercise class or anything else that gets you moving such as a good weeding session in the garden. 

We recommend:

  • Taking a 30min walk, 5 times a week.
  • Doing some form of exercise that makes you breathe a little harder and gets the heart beating a little more than usual.
  • Doing any kind of strength activity that works your muscles such as chair-based exercises or yoga.
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2. Diet & Superfoods

You are what you eat! A healthy and balanced diet is one of the best things you can do to prevent dementia, because of the knock-on effect it has on hypertension and obesity. Eating well also has the benefit of reducing a whole host of other illnesses including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease. One diet that has been linked to a reduction in the risk of dementia is the ‘Mediterranean diet’. This is high in fruit, vegetables, grains and cereals, low in saturated fats, and advises fish and white meats over red meat. While the research into superfoods is still in its infancy, the main thing is to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Foods high in antioxidants (berries and leafy greens) have been linked to a reduction in dementia risk, however, these reports are far from conclusive. 

3. Stop smoking

It is highly recommended that if someone does smoke, they stop sooner rather than later. As well as significantly lowering the risk of dementia, stopping smoking lowers the risk of other diseases including lung cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, other cancers and illnesses. GPs now offer lots of useful advice and support on how to give up smoking, more information can be found on the NHS website

4. Reduce alcohol intake

The Lancet Commission Report agrees that drinking too much alcohol significantly increases the risk of dementia and other alcohol-related brain illnesses. The recommended weekly amount of alcohol is no more than 14 units which in layman terms is around 7 pints of lager or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine. 

5. Stay Social

For the elderly, staying social and continuing to talk to friends and family daily is also likely to help prevent or slow the progression of dementia. There is certainly a higher incidence of dementia among older people who talk less with others and who are more isolated. Staying social might take the shape of a a daily phone call but could also be attending regular coffee or hobby clubs. 

6. Keep on top of your health

Depression, hearing loss and even low levels of sleep have all been linked to a greater incidence of dementia (The Lancet Commission Report), so getting control of these as they occur can reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life. Blood pressure, cholesterol and weight are also important to maintain at a healthy level as you get older. Regularly having check ups as you get older can also help spot any issues as soon as they present, often improving the outcome, even in dementia. 

Can brain training reduce your risk of dementia?

While it seems to make sense that keeping and active mind should help prevent a condition characterised by memory loss and cognitive decline, no studies have yet proved this to be true. Most of these studies have struggled to differentiate whether any reduced risk of dementia was due to brain training or something else in a participant’s life such as having a higher form of education, working in a more mentally stimulating job, or just a higher socioeconomic status. So giving your brain a workout might not be proven to reduce your risk of dementia, but it can be a fun social activity for older people. Read more on our 10 Best Entertainment Apps for Older People or try one of the following?

  • Learn a new language
  • Challenge yourself with puzzles, crosswords, sodukus or quizzes
  • Play card or board games every day
  • Read books (especially on new topics)

My husband and I have been playing Backgammon every morning over breakfast for the past 25 years. It really helps to engage our minds as we get older and it's fun to keep track of who's winning (it's me!).

Kay, 84 from somerset

Dementia risk factors that you can't change to prevent dementia

Unfortunately, only 35% of dementia risk factors are things that we can change with our day-to-day living. These are the so called modifiable risk factors. That means that 65% of risk factors are out of our hands. These unmodifiable risk factors are things that we can’t change. Having anyone of the following factors doesn’t mean that someone will definitely get dementia, only that they have an increased risk of getting it. 

Age

Unfortunately, age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, and sadly that risk increases with age. 1 in 14 people over 65 are estimated to have dementia, that increases to 1 in 8 in those over 80 years old. 

Gender

For reasons scientists aren't quite sure of yet, women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's dementia (the most common form of dementia) versus men. However, when it comes to other forms of dementia the risk evens out between genders.

Ethnicity

There is some evidence that being of South-Asian (e.g Pakistan or India) or African or African-Caribbean origin increases your risk of developing dementia. It is thought that the reason behind this is due to these ethnicities having a higher risk of comorbidities, or diseases that are often related to dementia, like stroke, heart disease and diabetes. 

Genetics

While having a close family relative who has Alzheimer's doesn't necessarily mean that you will develop it, it does increase your risk slightly. This is because you might inherit so called risk variants for genes like APOE. There are some types of dementia, like familial Alzheimer’s disease, that carry a much greater risk of being passed on, but these types of dementia are extremely rare.