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10 Ways To Reduce Dementia Risks

4 MIN READ • 29th November 2022

You’ve slapped on the sun cream to protect your skin from ageing, but what about your brain? It’s time to invest in the future

  • #1 Take a hard look at your lifestyle
    “Dementia isn’t a lifestyle disease,” says Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk). “But, even if you have a strong family history, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.” The biggest factors in your likelihood of developing one of the 80 different diseases, which involve various symptoms that are loosely termed dementia, are your age and your genes. But research suggests that around one third of dementia cases are caused by modifiable factors. In other words, your overall health. Compare this with diabetes – where around 80 percent of cases have modifiable causes – and you might think that working to reduce your dementia risk is a bit of a long shot. The good news, however, is that measures proven to reduce your dementia risk have a net benefit to your overall health. Win, win!

  • #2 Leave the car at home
    “Exercise can be used as a preventative measure,” says James. “We know that a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor. And, though it’s hard to study the exact types and amounts of exercise that might make a difference, exercise can help.” The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobics each week – so that might mean three gentle exercise classes if you have time on your hands, but it’s much handier to sandwich it into your normal routine by walking to work or taking the stairs, for example.

  • #3 Make sure you’re getting brain food
    Omega-rich foods should be among your shopping basket favourites, as they support your normal brain function and protect against other conditions which could contribute to your dementia risk. “So, have oily fish (such as sardines, anchovies, salmon, mackerel and herring), organic and grass-fed meats, eggs, nuts such as walnuts, and seeds such as flax seeds or chia seeds,” suggests registered nutritionist Martina Della Veedova of Nature Plus (natureplus.co.uk). “Dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions all show a brain tissue that lacks in omega 3 composition, as well as a high inflammatory marker profile, when compared to a healthy brain. Making sure you have good amounts of healthy fats assures a better nourishment of your mind.”

  • #4 Cut that occasional cigarette
    Did you know that women who smoke just one cigarette a day are still 31 percent more likely to suffer a stroke than those who have never inhaled? That statistic matters to your dementia risk for a very simple reason: “Having a stroke puts you at a much higher risk of developing dementia,” points out James. “The brain receives about 20 percent of total blood supply, so there’s a lot of plumbing up there, it’s a complicated vascular system. It’s no surprise that keeping your vascular system healthy is important.”

  • #5 Take your meds
    This brings us to an important motto – what’s good for the heart is good for the head. All those heart-healthy diet tips you’ve seen – such as swap to wholegrains, choose healthy fats and eat the rainbow – apply here, but there’s more. “We suggest people try to avoid developing those diseases that increase your dementia risk, such as high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. If a disease can’t be avoided [due to, for example, genetic predisposition], manage it properly.” You heard the doctor – when you’re evangelical about diet and exercise it’s easy to believe that you’ve got this, but there can be knock-on effects from letting conditions go unchecked.

  • #6 Take an evening class
    Has your summer holiday spurred you on to master a new language? Or learn to weave the kind of huge baskets your suitcase couldn’t accommodate? Well, signing up at your local adult education centre brings extra benefits. We know that education is a protective factor against developing dementia and that people working within complex professions benefit from the effects of an active brain. The underlying concept is about building cognitive reserves – developing a resilience to disease by giving your brain plenty of training in new and challenging ways of thinking.

  • #7 Hang on to your jeans size
    OK, this may be the least sexy piece of health advice ever but maintaining a healthy weight consistently is a key factor in avoiding disease, and dementia is no exception. “Anything that stimulates an inflammatory response in the body is a potential factor that, if present consistently though life, can lead to permanent consequences,” says Martina. “Inflammation is associated with oxidative stress and free radical production that causes tissues and cells to age quicker and be less able to repair.”

  • #8 Have catch-ups face-to-face
    Whether catch-ups with mates are increasingly conducted via your phone, or you’re struggling to connect emotionally with others, living a life that’s disconnected from your social group or loved ones can have serious consequences. Isolation and depression are recognised factors in dementia, though researchers have yet to establish whether they cause deterioration, or if indeed they are early symptoms of a developing condition. Nonetheless, there’s reason to believe getting regular face-to-face contact is well worth the taxi fare. “Social engagement could be a protective factor,” says James. “So, as well as keeping your brain active, it’s worth making sure your diary is, too.”

  • #9 Switch off the sat nav
    If you love letting Google Maps do the thinking for you, you could be missing a trick. Use it or lose it is an old adage oft applied to cognitive function and with good reason. Last year, researchers at University College London discovered that relying on a sat nav essentially switches off parts of your brain that would otherwise be hard at work recalling routes and interpreting the environment in front of you. So, if you want to give your brain a workout, ditch the device.

  • #10 Buy a bedside clock
    Does your phone impact on the amount of sleep you’re getting? You’ll know that the blue light emitted by electronic devices is detrimental to your chance of slipping off to sleep at a reasonable hour, but did you know that the amount of dreaming sleep you clock up can impact on your dementia risk? An American study that followed participants for 12 years before publishing last summer found that those who bagged less REM sleep were more likely to develop symptoms associated with dementia. Add in the overall health benefits of a decent night’s kip and there’s reason enough to leave that attention-snagging screen well away from your bed.

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