8. Can dementia be prevented?
It is not usually possible to say for sure why a particular person has developed dementia. Factors such as high blood pressure, lack of physical exercise and smoking – all of which lead to narrowing of the arteries – increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. There is evidence that a healthy lifestyle, especially in mid-life, can help reduce the risk of dementia. Regular physical exercise (for example, cycling, swimming, brisk walking), maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and drinking alcohol only in moderation, if at all, are linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
A healthy balanced diet also helps to reduce a person’s risk. A balanced diet is one which is low in saturated fat, does not have too much salt, sugar or red meat, and includes plenty of fish, starchy foods, and fruit and vegetables. All these healthy lifestyle choices will also reduce the risk of other serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer.
A person who is already living with conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure or high cholesterol should follow professional advice to keep their condition under control. Getting depression treated early is also important.
It also seems that keeping mentally and socially active into later life may help lower a person’s risk of dementia. Being mentally active could include doing puzzles or reading, or learning a new skill. Being socially active could include visiting friends or going to a place of worship. Volunteering could offer both mental and social activity and many organisations offer opportunities for people looking to donate their time or skills.