While there’s no definitive way to prevent dementia, there are things that you can do which have been shown to help reduce your risk
Dementia is on the rise. There are currently 850,000 sufferers in the UK, and over a million predicted by 2025, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form of the disease.
But with a few adjustments to your life, you can help protect your brain. According to Age UK, our lifestyle is responsible for up to 76% of changes in the ageing of the brain, which means that adopting key lifestyle changes may have the potential to reduce the risk of developing dementia by as much as 36%.
1 Up your B vitamins
A new study has found that a combination of B vitamins (B6, B12 and folic acid) and omega-3 found in oily fish prevented brain shrinkage. It could lead to new public health advice on the treatment of early-stage dementia using nutritional supplements.
Researchers found brain atrophy was slowed by 70% in patients with memory problems who had high levels of these nutrients.
Oxford professor David Smith, who led the study, said: ‘It means that keeping your omega-3 levels high and supplementing B vitamins could dramatically reduce your risk.’
2 Have a small glass of wine
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, but
don’t overdo it as drinking excessive amounts can damage the brain and actually cause some forms of dementia.
3 Stay close to your family and friends
Maintaining social connections, and keeping an active social life, is another good way to stay mentally stimulated and help prevent dementia. One study found that lonely people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life.
4 Don’t smoke
Smoking harms the vascular system, including the blood vessels in the brain – increasing the risk of vascular dementia. Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society says: ‘Research has shown that smokers are almost twice as likely to develop the disease as non-smokers.”
5 Keep your weight stable
Obese, middle-aged people have almost four times a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in later life, according to a study of 8,500 Swedish twins. According to research published in Neurology, a hormone produced as a result of abdominal fat can increase dementia risk.
6 Look after your eyes
A US study found that treating poor vision can reduce your chances of developing dementia by an astonishing 64%.
It’s not exactly clear why but impaired vision makes it difficult to participate in mental and physical activities, such as reading and exercising, as well as social activities, all believed to delay cognitive decline.
7 …and your teeth
Researchers at the University of California who followed nearly 5,500 elderly people over an 18-year period found that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65% more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily.
It’s thought that the bacteria that causes gum disease may trigger an immune response in the brain, which destroys neurons and brings on symptoms such as memory loss and confusion.
8 Stimulate your mind
‘Multiple studies have found that taking part in activities – such as reading, writing or solving puzzles – which stimulate the mind may help stave off the symptoms of dementia,’ says Patrick Holford, nutritionist and author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan (£12.99, Piatkus).
In one study, researchers found that doing any amount of crossword puzzle activity could delay the onset of dementia by over two and a half years.
9 Take vitamin D
A recent US study found that people over 60 with vitamin D deficiencies experience mental decline three times faster than those with sufficient levels. While the best way to get vitamin D is via the sun on unprotected skin, this may prove difficult during the winter months so consider taking a supplement.
10 Drink up!
‘There’s evidence suggesting caffeine delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease but it’s unclear why,’ says Doug. A US study, published in The Journal Of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggests that drinking three cups a day in adulthood can protect against Alzheimer’s in later in life.
11 Eat nuts…
Seeds and olive oil – they’re all rich in vitamin E, and older people with higher amounts of the vitamin in their blood were up to 54% less likely to develop dementia, found the Ageing Research Centre at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute.
12 Get some exercise
More than one in seven cases of Alzheimer’s could be prevented through regular exercise, according to a report by the Ontario Brain Institute. Scientists found that physically active over-65s were about 38% less likely to develop the disease than those who did no exercise.
‘Keeping fit ensures your brain has a good, strong bloody supply, which helps it function better.’ says Doug. Aim for half an hour’s exercise, five times a week.
13 Make sleep a priority
‘A number of studies in the past few years link the quality and duration of sleep to cognitive health,’ says Doug. Research has found that those who slept less efficiently were more likely to have amyloid plaques in their brains – a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
‘There’s no ideal quota – though the general consensus is that around seven to eight hours is the norm,’ explains Lisa Artis of The Sleep Council (sleepcouncil.org.uk).
14 Have salmon for supper
Eating just one serving of oily fish a week is associated with halving the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, according to Patrick. It’s thought that the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herrings, kippers, sardines or fresh tuna) may guard against a protein called beta-amyloid that is known to play a role in memory loss.
15 Care for your heart
Heart disease, stroke and diabetes all increase the risk of dementia so look after your brain by looking after your heart first. ‘The same lifestyle rules apply: eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables,’ explains Doug. ‘You should also exercise regularly, avoid smoking and keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.’
Did You Know?
A new study has found that a change in a person’s sense of humour could be an early warning sign of dementia. Researchers at University College London say telltale signs could include laughing inappropriately at tragic events and being amused by slapstick while losing interest in satire.
The discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis – and help doctors distinguish between different forms of the disease.
Worried About Your Memory?
The first port of call is always your GP, who can advise you on the next steps. You could also try taking the free online cognitive function test at foodforthebrain.org which can help track your memory function and advise you on diet and lifestyle improvements.
Need More Information?
If you’re worried about Alzheimer’s disease – or any other form of dementia – the Alzheimer’s Society’s dementia helpline (0300 222 1122) can provide advice, support and guidance. Alternatively visit the society’s website at alzheimers.org.uk.