Can I reduce my risk of dementia?

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Expert reviewer Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care
Next review due September 2020

Some risk factors for dementia are unavoidable. But many aren’t. Here we tell you what you and your family can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life.

This includes eating well, keeping a healthy weight, being physically active and avoiding smoking. Making these changes should also help you to avoid other health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension), which can also be linked to dementia.

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Diet and your weight

The good news is that following a diet to reduce your risk of dementia will also help to reduce your risk of other diseases. This includes heart disease and stroke. The advice is the same:

  • more fruit and vegetables
  • more fish, especially oily fish
  • more wholegrain cereals
  • less saturated fat from red meat and dairy products
  • less sugar and processed food
  • less salt

Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and at least two portions of fish a week. At least one portion of fish should be oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel.

Alcohol isn’t generally a risk factor for dementia, although some studies have linked it to vascular dementia. But, to stay healthy, it’s still a good idea to stick within the recommended limits of no more than 14 units a week. That works out as around six regular glasses of wine or six pints of beer.

For more information about diet, see our section on Healthy eating.

To help reduce your risk of dementia, it’s best to keep your weight within normal limits for your height. Being very overweight in middle age is particularly linked to dementia risk. But being underweight can also increase your risk.

The easiest way to find out if your weight is within the normal range is to measure your body mass index.

If you’re watching your weight, following the healthy eating guidelines in this section will help. Use food labelling to help you pick out low fat and sugar varieties. Take care to avoid or limit high-calorie foods, such as fried food, biscuits and sweets. Sugary drinks are also a source of calories without nutritional benefits.

For more advice, see our information on Keeping to a healthy weight.

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Making changes

It’s not always easy, changing the habits of a lifetime. But think about the benefits – a whole host of diseases and conditions can be affected by the way we live. More immediately, you’re bound to feel fitter if you eat healthily, get enough exercise and don’t smoke.

The same lifestyle changes that can help to prevent cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes could also reduce your risk of dementia later in life. What’s more, preventing other major health problems could further help to reduce your dementia risk. This is because heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes are also risk factors for dementia.

Getting used to a new way of living can be hard, but support from friends and family can help. Why not pledge to make changes together? It can be easier to break bad habits if there are a few of you pulling together. Family meal planning will also be easier if you’re all following the same general guidelines. And if you have children, you’ll be getting them used to healthy eating early in life.

While no one can guarantee that healthy living will definitely prevent any illness, including dementia, taking these steps can help. Doctors now think that the more of these lifestyle changes you can make, the more you will reduce your risk.


Regular physical activity is strongly linked to brain health. As well as helping to reduce the risk of dementia, exercise can improve your mood and prevent mental health problems such as depression. And mid-life depression may increase risk of dementia later in life.

It’s easier to exercise regularly if you build it into your daily life. Exercise doesn’t just mean sport. Housework, gardening and walking all count. Even just using the stairs instead of taking the lift can help.

Of course, sport can be fun and involve the whole family. It can also help to get you out and meeting people. Being lonely and socially isolated can also increase dementia risk.

For more ideas, see our tips on Getting started with exercise.

Stopping smoking

You don’t need us to tell you that smoking is bad for you. But you may not have thought about its effect on your brain. Smoking narrows the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to all the body organs, including the brain. It increases the risk of blood clots, strokes and vascular dementia.

Stopping smoking is hard, but there is plenty of help out there. See our information on The effects of smoking for advice on how to quit and where to find help.

Keeping mentally active

There isn’t a great deal of proof that particular types of ‘brain training’ could stop dementia developing. But it’s accepted that keeping mentally active is good for your brain. So, crosswords and other puzzles, learning a new skill or language will all help to keep you mentally agile. They may help to keep your brain healthy in older age.

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  • Reviewed by Graham Pembrey, Lead Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2017
    Expert reviewer Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care
    Next review due September 2020