Here are five things you can do to help lower your chances of developing dementia, with illustrations by multi-award winning cartoonist Tony Husband.
This article was first published in 2018. Be sure to follow the guidance on coronavirus whatever you do.
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 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.
Here are just five of the things you can do to help lower your chances of developing dementia. They are especially important if you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s – but they're relevant to everyone.
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.
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
- wholegrain starchy foods in most meals, such as wholemeal bread, rice and pasta.
- eating sugary foods only as a treat
- looking out for hidden salt in foods.
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 and stroke.
Drinking too much alcohol also increases your risk of developing dementia. Aim to drink no more than 14 units per week.
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.
- 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.
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 speak with 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.