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.

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.

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 are 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
  • 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.

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 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.

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.

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My 83 years old husband has been in a care home for 3 months now and I miss him terribly after 59 years of marriage. He has no quality of life, he cannot hold a conversation or even answer a simple question about what he had for lunch. So cruel and sad.

Hello Liz,

We're very sorry to hear about your husband. It sounds like you are going through a difficult time.

Please know that you can always call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 if you'd like support, advice or information from one of our trained dementia advisers. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it useful to join our online community, Talking Point. Here, carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences and offer support and advice to other people in similar situations: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps, Liz.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I also feel upset when I see advice in the newspaper or elsewhere on "preventing" dementia. My husband, now almost 93, was a highly qualified research chemist with several patents to his name. He played tennis until he was almost 90, rode his bike most days until an accident put paid to that, and still walks for at least half an hour most days. We have always been careful about our diet until recently when I have had to use more pre-prepared foods because of my own disabilities and eat plenty of fruit and veg. He never smoked and drank alcohol moderately. He kept very active mentally . In spite of all this he developed dementia - first showing signs about four years ago and diagnosed over two years ago. Now he has difficulty in understanding simple instructions, can't use even the most basic mobile phone and finds newspapers and TV unintelligible . It is heart-breaking so don't tell me it could have been prevented.

All I can say to all people with dementia if you have a bucket list do it sooner than later My wide pat is now in the final stage of Alzheimer’s we did it while she understood what it was all about and I am glad we did as now pat understands nothing

I believe all mental and physical activities can improve our capabilities and motivation; we need to consider our options and go for it, even if we only have limited time to do this!
Good luck everyone.

My Mum is 80. She has Altzheimers. It is galloping along. Every week I try to appreciate what we can enjoy together, what makes her laugh, sing or smile. I'm lucky, she has carers.
To people with early stage memory issues.... Please, get your financial affairs and Power of Atterney for £ plus the one for your welfare. Treat your family fairly and carefully to prevent problems later on.

Well, you were doing okay until you suggested we base our diet around bread, pasta and potatoes. Absolutely the very worst things. Back to the drawing board with you. other than that, not bad. Keep up the good work.

I am not in England, Wales or any part of the UK. I am in New York City.

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.

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.

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.

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 have had a DNA health check on 23andme and fortunately I do not carry the Alzheimer gene. Many people would prefer not to know Nina but you are certainly able to find out your genetic pre-dispositions.
Had it shown I carried the gene then I would immediately have rearranged my life based on the high probability that Alzheimers would eventually catch up with me.

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.

When my husband was still at home, before going into a care home a couple of years ago, the district nurse would come and check his blood pressure, etc. I said to her then, why don't carers get checked out, they are doing a stressful job and she agreed it was important but that they don't do that.

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.

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!!

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

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