Reducing the risk

There's no certain way to prevent all types of dementia - researchers are still investigating how the disease develops.

However, there's good evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing dementia when you're older.

It can also help prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attacks, which are themselves risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, the most common types of dementia.

Risk factors for dementia

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of developing a condition.

Some dementia risk factors are difficult or impossible to change. These include:

  • Age: the older you are, the more likely you are to develop dementia. However, dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing.
  • Genes: by and large, genes alone are not thought to cause dementia. Although certain genetic factors are involved with some more unusual forms of dementia, for the most part dementia develops as a combination of genetic and "environmental" factors, such as smoking and lack of regular exercise.
  • Lower levels of education.

In addition, the latest research suggests that other factors are also important. These include:

  • hearing loss
  • untreated depression
  • loneliness or social isolation
  • a sedentary lifestyle

The research concluded that by modifying the risk factors we are able to change, our risk of dementia could be reduce by up to 30%.

Experts agree that what's good for your heart is also good for your brain. This means you can help reduce your risk of dementia by:

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising regularly
  • keeping alcohol to a minimum
  • stopping smoking
  • keeping blood pressure at a healthy level

Diet and dementia

The risk: a diet high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and low in fibre, can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes.

What you can do: eat a healthy, balanced diet following the Eatwell Guide.

Weight and dementia

The risk: being overweight or obese can increase your blood pressure and risk of type 2 diabetes, both of which are linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

What you can do: check if your weight is within the healthy range using the healthy weight calculator. If you are overweight or obese, even losing 5 to 10% of the excess weight can help to reduce your risk of dementia.

Exercise and dementia

The risk: a lack of regular physical activity can increase your risk of heart disease, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes. Older adults who don't exercise are also more likely to have problems with memory or thinking (known as cognitive abilities).

What you can do: follow the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking, cycling or dancing. You should also do strengthening exercises twice a week, such as gardening or yoga.

It's also important to sit less, so try to get up and move around regularly. For example, take the stairs and walk up escalators, and make phone calls while standing up.

Alcohol and dementia

The risk: drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases your risk of stroke, heart disease and some cancers, as well as damaging the nervous system, including the brain.

What you can do: stick to the recommended advice of no more than 14 units a week for both men and women. If you regularly drink as much as 14 units in a week, you should try to spread your drinking over three or more days and have several drink-free days each week.

Smoking and dementia

The risk: smoking causes your arteries to narrow, which can raise your blood pressure. It also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as several cancers.

What you can do: if you smoke, try to quit. There's plenty of help available on the NHS. Call Help Me Quit on 0808 278 4105 or visit their website for advice and information.

Depression and dementia

The risk: the relationship between dementia and depression is complex. It appears that having untreated depression increases your risk of developing dementia but, equally, depression can occur as part of the overall symptoms of dementia itself.

Regardless, low mood, anxiety or depression can all affect your ability to be socially active and engage in mentally stimulating activities.

What you can do: if you're concerned that you, a relative or friend may be depressed, talk to your GP. They may refer you for counselling or talking therapies.

Hearing loss and dementia

People with hearing loss have a significantly increased risk of dementia.. Using hearing aids seems to reduce the risk.  It’s important to have regular check ups on you’re hearing.

Keeping socially active

Being socially connected with others reduces the risk of dementia.Keeping in touch with people and engaging in social activities, such as going to the cinema, or being part of a walking group or choir, is good for your confidence and mental wellbeing.

If you have someone who helps care for you, an active social life is good for them, too.

Many communities are now dementia-friendly. For example, cinemas put on dementia-friendly screenings of the latest films, and leisure centres run dementia-friendly swimming sessions as well as other activities.

It's a good idea to join a local dementia-friendly group, perhaps at a memory cafe or community centre. You can share experiences and use tips from others who are living with dementia. Singing for the Brain groups run by Alzheimer's Society - singing is known to improve mood and wellbeing and is also great fun.

Find groups in your area on the Alzheimer's Society website.  Age Cymru and the NHS 111 Health, Wellbeing & Support Directory can also provide details of different activities available in your area

Have an NHS Health Check

The NHS offers free Health Care Checks to over 50s. Click here for further information.