How to reduce your risk of dementia or delay its impact
Unfortunately, there are some risk factors you can’t change, these include:
Age: people diagnosed with dementia tend to be over the age of 65. Above this age, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every five years. Over the age of 80 there is a one in six chance of developing dementia.
Ethnicity: certain ethnic communities appear to be at higher risk of dementia than others. For example, South Asian and African or African-Caribbean people seem to develop dementia more often than white Europeans. Specific risk factors associated with these communities such as stroke, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, as well as differences in diet, smoking, exercise and genes, are thought to explain this.
Gender: more women are affected by dementia than men. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men two to one. Twice as many women over the age of 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than men whereas vascular dementia is diagnosed in slightly more men than women.
Genetics: in rare cases, Alzheimer’s disease can be passed from one generation to another. This type of dementia usually affects people under the age of 65.
Although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence shows there are things you can do to help reduce your own risk. These include keeping active, eating healthily and exercising your mind.
1. Be physically active
Doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. It’s good for your heart, circulation, weight and mental wellbeing.
It’s important to find a way of exercising that works for you. You might find it helpful to start off with a small amount of activity and build it up gradually. Even 10 minutes at a time is good for you and try to avoid long sitting down for too long.
2. Eat healthily
A healthy, balanced diet may reduce your risk of dementia, as well as other conditions including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.
Eat a balanced diet
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Eat protein (such as oily fish, beans, pulses, eggs or meat) at least twice a week.
- Limit your sugar intake, and look out for hidden salt.
- Eat starchy foods like bread, potatoes and pasta.
- Eat less saturated fat and look at the Eatwell Guide from the NHS.
- Drink 6–8 glasses of fluid (such as water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks) a day.
3. Don’t smoke
If you smoke, you’re putting yourself at much higher risk of developing dementia. You’re also increasing your risk of other conditions, including type 2 diabetes, stroke, and lung and other cancers.
Smoking does a lot of harm to the circulation of blood around the body, including the blood vessels in the brain, as well as the heart and lungs.
Tips for stopping smoking
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about different ways to stop smoking.
- Try using a date or event as motivation for stopping. For example, you could make it a new year’s resolution, or give up during October as part of Stoptober.
- Consider using a less harmful alternative nicotine-containing product such as e-cigarettes, lozenges or gum.
- Try using NHS Smokefree support services, which include a helpline, app and local support services.
4. Drink less alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of developing dementia
At most, you should aim to drink no more than 14 units each week.
Tips for cutting down on alcohol
- Set yourself a limit and keep track of how much you’re drinking.
- Try low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks.
- Try to alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks.
- Take advantage of particular dates and events to motivate you. For example, you could make a new year’s resolution to drink less.
5. Exercise your mind
Keeping your mind active is likely to reduce your risk of dementia. Regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease. One way to think about it is ‘Use it or lose it’.
Find something you like doing that challenges your brain and do it regularly. It’s important to find something that you’ll keep up. For example:
- study for a qualification or course, or just for fun
- learn a new language
- do puzzles, crosswords or quizzes
- play card games or board games
- read challenging books or write (fiction or non-fiction).
Talking and communicating with other people may also help to reduce your risk of dementia. Make an effort to keep in touch with the people who are important to you, such as friends and family.
Volunteering, or joining a club or community group are also good ways to stay socially active.
6. Take control of your health
Mid-life is an important time to start taking care of your health, if you’re not doing so already.
It’s important to see your GP if you’re worried about health problems such as depression, hearing loss, or not getting enough sleep. All of these might increase your risk of dementia.