Here are five things you can do to help lower your chances of developing dementia, with illustrations by multi-award winning cartoonist Tony Husband.
Like many people, you may have made some resolutions for the New Year. Perhaps you’re determined to improve your health by doing more exercise or drinking less alcohol.
Making healthier choices can help reduce your risk of dementia. While some things that affect your risk of dementia can’t be changed, such as your age or genes, there are many things you can change.
You can read more about what we mean by 'risk factors for dementia' and find out about dementia and reducing your risk of developing it from our free resource, Dementia: Reducing your risk.
Here are just five of the things you can do to help lower your risk of dementia. They relevant to everyone but are especially important if you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s.
1. Get moving
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia is being physically active several times each week.
This helps to keep you healthy in so many ways, including looking after the blood vessels in your brain so they’re able to keep supplying it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to work properly.
Physical activity is also good for your mental health and helps you to sleep better.
Try to do a combination of activities you’ll enjoy, as you’re more likely to stick to them, such as:
- activities that get you moving and breathing faster, such as brisk walking, swimming, pilates, or riding a bike
- activities that strengthen your muscles, such as digging and shovelling in the garden, dancing, climbing stairs, or lifting weights.
Older people who are at risk of falling may find exercises that strengthen their legs help them to stay steadier on their feet. It can also help to reduce joint pain.
2. Eat well
A healthy, balanced diet is likely to reduce your risk of dementia, as well as several other health conditions including cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Top tips for healthy eating include eating:
- wholegrain foods in most meals, such as wholemeal bread, rice and pasta
- lots of fruits, vegetables, pulses (beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds
- at least two portions of fish each week, including an oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
- lower-fat dairy foods
- less red or processed meat
- only having sugary foods, such as biscuits, cakes or chocolate, as occasional treats
- less salt – no more than about a teaspoon (6g) each day.
The Eatwell Guide from the NHS shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
3. Quit smoking and cut down on alcohol
If you smoke, you’re putting yourself at much higher risk of developing dementia later in life, as well as other conditions such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Drinking too much alcohol also increases your risk of developing dementia.
Aim to drink no more than 14 units per week, which is equivalent to about 7 pints of lower-strength beer or lager, and don’t drink more than 6 to 8 units at a time.
4. Keep your mind active
Engaging in mental or social activities may help to build up your brain’s ability to cope with disease, relieve stress and improve your mood. Find an activity you enjoy, as you’re more likely to keep it up.
- any kind of adult education or learning
- arts and crafts (especially in groups)
- playing a musical instrument or singing
- reading books or magazines, or becoming a member of a book club
- doing brainteasers, such as puzzles, crosswords or quizzes
- playing card games or board games
- learning a new language
- creative writing – such as stories, articles or blogs – or just keeping a diary.
You might want to do some of these activities with friends or neighbours. Spending time with other people helps to keep your mind active.
5. Look after your health
Taking control of your health will help reduce your risk of dementia. If you’re aged 40–74, start by getting your free NHS health check:
- In England, you’ll be invited to this by your GP every five years, unless you have a pre-existing health condition.
- In Wales, you can use the ‘Add to Your Life’ free online health and wellbeing check.
- In Northern Ireland, you can book a Well Check via Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS).
It’s also important to protect your head from injuries by wearing protective headgear where there is a higher-than-normal risk of head injury – for example, riding a bike, working on a building site, horse-riding, playing cricket -– and definitely if skateboarding!
Get support from your GP if you are having trouble with hearing loss, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, or if you think you may be depressed. Each of these has been shown to increase risk of dementia.