5 New Year’s resolutions to help reduce your risk of dementia

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 joining your local gym or drinking less alcohol.

Making healthier choices can also 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.

We are not suggesting that the risk factors here cause dementia, or that if you follow this advice you will prevent dementia completely. However, evidence shows that factors such as keeping active and eating healthily can help reduce your risk.

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 chances of developing dementia. They’re especially important if you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s – but they’re relevant to everyone.

 

Get more exercise cartoon

1. Get moving

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia is taking part in regular physical exercise. It’s good for your heart, circulation, weight and mental wellbeing.

Try to do a combination of activities you’ll enjoy, as you’re more likely to stick to them, such as:

  • aerobic activities that get you moving, such as brisk walking, riding a bike or pushing a lawnmower
  • resistance activities that work your muscles, such as digging and shovelling in the garden, or lifting weights.
Watch your diet

2. Eat well

A healthy, balanced diet is likely to reduce your risk of dementia, as well as other conditions including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.

Top tips for healthy eating include:

  • eating five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
  • eating fish or other omega-3 rich foods at least twice a week
  • basing meals around starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes
  • eating sugary foods only as a treat
  • looking out for hidden salt in foods.

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 and stroke.

Drinking too much alcohol also increases your risk of developing dementia. Aim to drink no more than 14 units per week.

Don't Smoke

4. Keep your mind active

You can also help to reduce your risk of dementia by exercising your mind. Research suggests that regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease. Find an activity you enjoy, as you’re more likely to keep it up.

For example:

  • doing puzzles, crosswords or quizzes
  • learning a new language
  • playing card games or board games
  • studying for a course, or just for fun
  • writing – such as stories, poetry, articles or blogs.

You might want to do some of these activities with friends or neighbours. Spending time with other people is an important part of keeping your mind active.

Look after your health cartoon

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.
  • In Wales, people are encouraged to use the free online health check.
  • In Northern Ireland, you can book a Well Check via Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS).

It’s important to see the GP if you’re worried about health problems such as depression, hearing loss, or not getting enough sleep. All of these might increase your risk of dementia.

Dementia: Reducing your risk

There are many websites and apps that can help you with physical and mental exercise, giving up smoking and eating healthily. Download our booklet on dementia and how to reduce your risk of developing it, or order a free copy in the post.

Download the booklet Order a free copy

Thank you to cartoonist Tony Husband for providing his wonderful illustrations. 

This post was updated and republished in January 2020.

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23 comments

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When riding make sure you wear a helmet

I have just read the book called 'Why we sleep' by Matthew Walker who stresses the importance of sleep, particularly NREM sleep when Gamma Rays induce glial cells to clear away Amaloid toxins. He suggests that we don't stress the importance of having 7 - 8 hours sleep a night, to allow for NREM sleep to occur. People who's lifestyles don't encourage 8 hours sleep (at night) may be at higher risk of Alzheimers. So should you not be stressing the importance of, sleep of sufficient quantity and quality to reduce this risk.

Hi, I would think that Gamma Rays are not part of a human sleep cycle:

SOURCES OF GAMMA RAYS. Gamma rays have the smallest wavelengths and the most energy of any wave in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are produced by the hottest and most energetic objects in the universe, such as neutron stars and pulsars, supernova explosions, and regions around black holes.
Gamma Rays | Science Mission Directorate
https://science.nasa.gov/ems/12_gammarays

Also, a separate point - on so many dimensions humans vary, sleep included. I myself tend towards a 7hr natural sleep when all other conditions are right (temperature; regular sleep time/pattern; good hydration; relaxed before bed; neither hungry or 'over full'; room is dark and quiet.) Therefore, may be the point is to get the length of sleep that is right for us as individuals. Also, I would be interested to know of any research around having naps during the day? A good night's sleep cannot be guaranteed and so very occasionally I have a 'power nap' for about 10mins in the day. I read somewhere that our sleep gets deeper from first falling asleep, but then gets lighter again at about 10mins, and again at about 50mins. I would therefore set an alarm to awake (hopefully more refreshed than before) after 10mins. Are the timings here anybody else has come across?

I am a 75 year old carer of a husband with vascular dementia. My mother died of Alzheimer's aged 92 so dementia is a big concern for me.

Some nights my husband will have me up and down all night for one thing and another leaving me with maybe 3-5 hours of fragmented sleep. Sometimes he settles fairly well and I get 6-7 hours on and off. When he is in hospital for physical problems I get 8-9 or even more hours of uninterrupted bliss.

You could almost plot a graph with a positive correlation between the hours of sleep I have had and my cognitive ability. At 3 hours I couldn't tell you where I put the kettle. Let alone what I wanted it for. Simple day to day arithmetic goes out the window. Studying is a nightmare. On a good day I will have trouble naming things but on a "3 hour day" I scarcely remember names of anything. Oh yes sleep has to be relevant!

Julie , you are so right . I could see myself in all you said . Sadly due to my blood pressure soaring and out of the blue an offer of the only Dementia Unit I was happy for him to go to , came the very next day . He has now been there for 8 weeks . The change in me , after 15 years of caring , has been amazing . I now sleep an undisturbed 7-8 hours and would usually have been exhausted by lunchtime . Now I have energy , have been able to , at last , start researching my Fathers part in WW11. I can watch programmes on gardening , cookery , history and comedy which my husband refused to watch. I do still forget words but for years there was very little speech in our home as he could not initiate speech . So I tend to speak very fast , I suppose because he hated me talking to anyone else. I am trying to slow down but it is difficult after years of having to do everything. The most amazing thing is not clock watching - always having to do shopping etc in such a small amount of time , while a Carer took over for a short time. It is so strange to know I can do anything .
I miss my husband terribly after 54 years together and it has been a type of grieving . I feel cross that allowing my husband to go into a Unit means I will grieve for him twice. Dementia is so cruel . Keep your chin up - you are amazing but try to have respite to allow yourself to recharge . I always said he would never go into a home but the toll of caring took a toll on my health . I am so relieved he is safe now in case I went first .

Is it not possible for the Doctor to prescribe a sleeping tablet for your husband to give you the sleep you most definitely need. I am desperate for you and pray you will continue to cope.

Good afternoon my name is Vicky H Wheeldon. I have a aunty Anne has dementia she can't remember me any more. Her couisns are Gaye and Frank. ..if I wrote to her car she remember me that I have written to her or not

My wife went to keep fit, yoga, Egyptian dance classes as well as swimming every week. She ate lots of fish, fruit and vegetables and was not over weight. Her address book was filled with people she met up with for lunch days out. Smoking and excessive drinking have never been part of her life. She was a bright, bubbly. positive lady who had just retired as a health visitor and was looking forward to doing more world travel, her passion, when she was diagnosed........

So sorry to hear that. Guess for any of us nothing is guaranteed. I think that we should all aspire to lead full and active lives and to take every opportunity that comes our way. Sadly, I have found in my own life, for some of the brightest, gifted and most generous people around, their light goes out long before time.

Exactly the same for my mum. She was a headmistress, never smoked, hardly drank, a healthy weight and exercised daily, walking, swimming, gym and Tai Chi. She was only 67 when diagnosed with Alzheimers. She is now aged 76 and in a Care Home. She cannot hold a conversation, open an envelope or brush her own teeth, amongst many other things! I find it all so cruel, she is physically extremely fit but her mind is shot. She is so helpless now I could cry ( and I do, often). Visitors to the home think she is also a visitor, she looks so young. She has happy moments but not really any quality of life. She just exists, sometimes angry because I think she is scared. The carers are fantastic with her at the home but she really has no life at all. Her light went out long ago and I am so sad for her. She could go on for years.

My name is Christine i’m 68yrs old next month and I think i’m going down the slope to Alzheimer’s. Tomorrow i’m having an assessment (one of many I suspect) to find out if i’m heading that way. I sincerely hope not as my own mother developed the illness and ended up not recognising her own daughter when visiting her in a home. I was about 48yrs old at the time, divorced, 3 children at school and falling apart.
When I went to visit her in the home she would say she didn’t know me and would walk away. Thanks Alzheimer’s.

We need better treatment and sooner, not in another 5years,medically speaking

I think keeping fit and healthy is important generally. Common sense tells us keeping asnfit and healthy as we can is helpful. But not singles out as part of preventing Alzheimer's. I feel these sort of messages undermine the desease and make others, not involved and living it, think it is self inflicted and due to lifestyle choices. Which is not so. It's hard enough to live with without this sort of thing saying lifestyle is the cause.
If the cause is unknown how can our lifestyle prevent it!

Totally agree Maggie. My husband died on 30 December at the age of 69 having lived with Alzheimer’s for 15 years. He ticked all of the 5 boxes above. Living healthily is common sense for all sorts of reasons. But these messages give the idea that people with dementia have in some way brought it on themselves through poor life style choices.

Hi Maggie, thank you for your comment. You are correct, keeping fit is important generally. We are not saying that taking these steps will prevent dementia, rather that evidence shows there are things you can do to help lower your chances of developing dementia. This article is to encourage readers, especially those who have made resolutions, to stay healthy this year.

Thank you

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My wonderful husband was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia 16 years ago. I have just read your advice in reducing the risk. So he has cycled since he was about 5. When I first met him he was doing 30 miles a day to and from work. Saturday doing his Mums shopping by cycle. Sunday lots of miles with cycle club. He continued like that. When he retired age 62 he was out on his bike every day. Two days a week with clubs., the last time he got lost Aged 84. I had to stop it but put his bike on turbo trainer in front room and walked him a lot. So I think that sorts the exercise. We have always eaten healthily all made from Scratch by me. Even jam from fruit in garden. He was always about 9sr 8ozs. That should sort nutrition. He gave up smoking over 50/ years ago. . That is that one sorted. He never drank very much. Even no w his blood pressure and heart are good. Couple of pints of ale a week. So I get fed up with reading in newspapers and magazines how to help prevent dementia. There must be a lot more to it!!

This is my thoughts exactly also Maggie. My dad died of mixed dementia in 2018, he watched what he eat and didn't smoke or drink. He was always fit and was always slim throughout his life.

Shocking that as a carer 80 years old I am not offered a regular health check. Surgery says this is an NHS stipulation but I can book in to see a doctor if I have something wrong.

Appreciate the advice given on the 5 things to reduce risk of dementia. My mother did all these things, worked till she was 74, ate little but healthy, a tea total-er, sociable and yet she lived with Alzheimer for 15 years- it destroyed her personality, her humour and everything. Is it not a known fact that Alzheimer/dementia is genetic? Whilst the 5 things may or may not help, should the organization be misleading the public? Sorry, if this sounds harsh.

Hi Nina, I'm very sorry to hear about your mother. Our advice here is about reducing the risk of dementia rather than preventing it completely. There are some risk factors that of course can't be avoided. You can read more of our advice on our 'Risk factors and prevention' pages here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention

Thank you,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I was informed officially in september1918, but the first positive sign was about 13 years ago (with hardening arteries in the brain) a few years later it was (mild degenerative vascular disease). SO ITS TAKEN A LONG TIME TO REACH TODAY.IWAKE MOST MORNINGS AND CAN NOT REMEMBER WHAT DAY IT IS,i ask myself what did I do yesterday, I get the correct answer on getting up and looking at the calendar, the TV times, the BBC televisions news. I am now fully aware. why I am writing today is: I had a little sleep in my armchair this afternoon, when I woke, I will be late for work (I worked nights before retiring) it took a LONG few minutes or lots of seconds to think where is work, I decided I retired about 12 years ago, COULD THIS LATEST EVENT MEAN AM I THAT MUCH NEARER , THAN NOT BEING AWARE OF MY OWN FAMILY AND FRIENDS. I MUST ADD I HAVE THREE ADULT CHILDREN and THREE LOVELY GRAND CHILDREN THAT I LOVE DEARLY, AND SEE REGULARLY, ANDMY THREE ADULT CHILDREN ATE JUST A PHONE CALL AWAY or is it EITHER OF THEM THATS AT MY FRONT DOOR, LIFE COULD ONLY BE MUCH WORST WITH OUT FAMILY AND FRIENDS. I wrote the above after reading other comments above, TODAY, I CAN NOT IN MY HEART COMPLAIN ABOUT WHAT IS SLOWLY HAPPENING. IF MY MESSAGE HELPS IN ANY WAY TO OTHERS THAT WILL BE SO VERY PLEASING. LASTLY, THE HELP FROM THE STAFF AT N.H.S.,I HOPE THATS THE LAST THING I FORGET. THANK YOU DAVID W. GARNHAM.

I agree with all the sentiments that the above have written. Please put a stop to this stigmatisation of people with Alzheimer’s. It is so cruel and hurtful to hear this untrue mantra publicised by the popular press on a daily basis. It feels like a blame game. My husband led a full, healthy and active lifestyle, eating healthy and nutritious food. He held a professional career and went on to third level education.The only medication he is taking is Donepezil. He has had memory problems since he turned 70 and was diagnosed when he was 73. We as Carers need encouragement, not blame.

An interesting variation of Dementia experiences, almost daunting (I might add, the human toll of sadness and relationships both from partnerships and memory loss). I must be rare in all this. Three years ago after an MRI scan and crippling headaches I was told Mr (S) the result of the scan shows evidence of Amyloids and tangled sets of,protein matter", on the brain.My Doctor, seemed uncomfortable to say the word,"Symptoms of early Alzhiemers Disease"ever since i decided to up my game, I walk , dance ,read, improved my culinary skills, attend exercise classes, preparing the swimming,contacted my Alumni at two universities, planning to join setting up a 'health care project in Te Gambia with like minded person' I don's sleep well at nights but I sleep when I can,I love a good glass of brandy and sometimes an Australian Merleau.I have a large family of children and grand children also great grandchildren My deepest love is reading non fiction and the study of all the subjects of the Humanities,My last purchase is a text book entitled "The Archeology of the Mind" I do not recommend this for everyday reading as it is for professionals with an understanding of and interest in neuro-scientific issues.I retired when I was 65, and kept going since , in December of 2020 I would have reached my 90th birthday I live alone love my company and some gardening when the weather permits. By the way am a member of (QRD) quality research in Dementia ,I plan writing a project plan to apply for funding to complete a Master's degree that I started etc etc... wish me luck.

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