How could I reduce my risk of dementia?

Understanding which risk factors for dementia we may be able to change

Research has identified many risk factors associated with dementia. It's impossible to eliminate every single one; after all we can't avoid age, which is the most significant. However, there are things that could affect the risk of developing dementia that we may be able to change.

The image below represents a brain and some of the things that affect its health, in good or bad ways. It looks at what the current evidence says in terms of how they may be related to the risk of developing dementia.

Hover over the spots in each word to find out more. You can also click on the spots for physical activity, diet, alcohol, high blood pressure, mental activity and cholesterol for more detailed information.

Top tips for reducing your risk of dementia

Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia; however there are things that can be done to reduce your risk. Here are our top tips:

1. Try to keep physically active - enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat – for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. Research shows that regular exercise in middle-aged or older adults can improve thinking and memory, and reduce the risk of developing dementia. 

2. Keep your blood pressure in check, especially if you are over 40 years old. High blood pressure in mid-life significantly increases the likelihood of developing dementia in later life. See your GP to find out what your blood pressure is and to find out the best ways to reduce it if it is too high.

3. If you have diabetes, make sure you manage your condition well. There is a strong link between type 2 diabetes and the risk of developing dementia. There are things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, such as staying at a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet that is low in sugar. 

4. Try and stop smoking. Smokers have a greater risk of developing dementia and it also causes harm to the lungs and heart. If you want to stop smoking it is a good idea to visit your GP. They can provide help and advice about quitting, and can refer you to an NHS Stop Smoking Service. 

5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, for example the Mediterranean diet, which has a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, and low levels of red meat and sugar. Evidence shows this may help to reduce the risk of dementia.

6. Keep your brain active. Research suggests that people who take part in activities that stimulate the brain (such as reading, learning and doing puzzles) are less likely to develop dementia, compared with those who do not engage in these activities. 

7. If you have depression, make sure you receive the help and support that you need. People with depression appear to have a greater risk of developing dementia. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you should seek help from the GP early because it can be treated, either with drugs, talking therapies, or both.

8. Keep your cholesterol levels in check, especially if you are over the age of 40. Evidence shows that high cholesterol levels in mid-life can increase your risk of dementia later on. People over the age of 40 should get their cholesterol levels checked to make sure they are within a healthy range. If your blood cholesterol is too high, your GP can give you advice on how to bring it down.

Read more about cholesterol and dementia risk

9. Keep your alcohol intake within recommended limits, and do not start drinking as a means to protect against dementia. The research into links between alcohol consumption and dementia risk is so far unclear but drinking to excess is known to cause brain damage.