Reducing the risk of dementia
While it is not possible to prevent all dementias, we now know that it is possible to reduce the risk of getting dementia, possibly by up to 40%, and that in the majority of cases, dementia is caused by a mix of risk factors.
Some of the risk factors, like our age our genetics, and our gender we can’t change, but other things we can. We have become familiar with the health messages associated with reducing our risk of getting cancer and diabetes for example, and while we know that some people will get ill even by following a healthy lifestyle, we also know that these illnesses are less likely if we take certain actions. The same is true for dementia and, as with these other conditions, it is important to take action even in our 30s or 40s.
The risk factors that we can’t change are our age, our genetics, and our gender. As we get older the likelihood of getting dementia increases and although extremely rare, some types of dementia are caused by genetic factors. We also know that more women get dementia than men, and this is not explained only by the fact that women tend to live longer than men. As dementia is so common, many of us will have a relative with dementia, but this does not mean that we will get it too. The good news is that most of us won’t.
There are many things we can change though, and these are called our modifiable risks.
- Alcohol consumption – this should be kept to a minimum
- Smoking – if you smoke, stop smoking
- Diet – this should be ‘Mediterranean’, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish
- Blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol – check these and maintain them within healthy limits
- Hearing and eyesight – have these checked regularly and wear hearing aids and glasses if prescribed
- Physical activity – keep as active within the limits of any pre-existing health condition
- Head injury (often called chronic traumatic encephalopathy) – avoid any head injury
- Brain stimulation – keep exercising your brain and learning new things
- Weight – keep your weight within healthy limits, neither underweight nor overweight
- Stress – notice what causes you stress and work at keeping this to a minimum
- Sleep – helps clear our brains of unhealthy proteins so maintain good sleep patterns
- Social interaction – this is perhaps the best type of cognitive stimulation
- Emotional wellbeing – take notice of how you are feeling and manage stress, depression or anxiety
Did you know?
Governments can reduce the human and economic impact of dementia by developing responses to the World Health Organization (WHO) Global action plan on the public health response to dementia by 2025