Risk factors you can’t change
The risk of dementia increases with age. For example, the risk of developing dementia is 1 in 14, over the age of 65. But over the age of 80 the risk is 1 in 6 which is much higher. But it’s not a natural or inevitable part of getting older.
Other dementia risk factors include:
- gender – there are overall more women with dementia than men, with 65 percent of people living with dementia in the UK being women. This could be due to women living longer, but it could also be linked to other things such as hormones. However, men are slightly more likely to develop a type of dementia called vascular dementia.
- ethnic background – some Black and Asian ethnic groups have a higher risk of conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes which are risk factors for developing dementia.
- Family history – some types of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are familial that run in families. So there’s an increased chance of developing AD if a close family member such as a parent or sibling has it. Around 30 percent of people with frontotemporal dementia will have a close family member with the condition too.
Ways to reduce risk of dementia
1. Diet and dementia
Eating healthily is good for your overall health and can also and help to reduce the risk of dementia. Make sure to eat enough fruits and vegetables, protein and wholegrain foods. And try keep the amount of saturated fat, sugar and salt in your diet low.
Research shows that a diet high in saturated fats is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Saturated fats are found in meats, butter and cheese. So, try to limit these foods and eat more unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts and olive oil.
2. Your weight and dementia
Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, which are both risk factors of dementia. Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce your risk. The best way to do that is to follow healthy eating guidelines and be more active.
3. Exercise and dementia
Regular physical activity is strongly linked to brain health. It can also help to prevent mental health problems such as depression. And, depression later in life may increase your risk of dementia.
For good physical and mental health, you should aim to be active every day. Any activity you can do is better than none. UK guidelines say you should aim to do either:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week, such as brisk walking
- 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, such as running
It’s easier to be regularly active if you build it into your daily life. Activities like housework, gardening and walking all count. Make sure to do a mix of different activities to help you strengthen muscles, stay flexible, and get your heart rate up.
Of course, getting involved in activity can be sociable and fun and it’s a great way to meet other people. For example, you could try joining a sports club or attend dance classes. Some research suggests that being lonely and socially isolated can also increase dementia risk. So it’s another good reason to get more active.
4. Cutting down on smoking and alcohol
Smoking narrows your blood vessels, which reduces the blood flow to your brain. It increases the risk of blood clots, strokes and vascular dementia. There is a link between smoking and developing Alzheimer’s disease too. Stopping smoking can be hard, but there is plenty of support available to help you quit.
Regularly drinking more than the recommended alcohol units each week is linked to an increased likelihood of developing dementia.
If you drink alcohol, try to avoid drinking more than the recommended limit of 14 units. That works out as around six regular glasses of wine or six pints of beer each week. Limiting drinking to the recommended weekly amounts will also help you to keep to a healthy weight.
5. Being mentally and socially active
Social isolation is likely to increase your chances of developing dementia. Try to keep in touch regularly with loved ones if you can.
Doing activities that make you think may also be important in helping to slow down cognitive decline. While ‘brain training’ isn’t proven to stop dementia, it’s accepted that keeping mentally active is good for your brain because it builds up cognitive reserve. So, crosswords, puzzles, and learning a new skill or language can all help to keep you mentally agile.
By making healthy lifestyle choices you can help to reduce your risk of developing dementia. This includes following a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and drinking. Some of these changes can also help to prevent health conditions linked to dementia such as diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure (hypertension).