There are around 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia* and it is a condition that many people fear as they age. However, it’s important to remember that dementia is not inevitable and there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing it.
Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities. This includes problems with:
- memory loss
- thinking speed
- mental agility
We are all at potential risk of developing dementia, however there are factors which can increase or lower your risk.
Risk factors of dementia:
Age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia. The chances of developing it rise significantly as we get older. Over the age of 65 your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every five years.**
Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. The reasons for this are still unclear, but it has been suggested Alzheimer’s disease in women is linked to a lack of the hormone oestrogen after menopause.
There is some evidence to suggest that people from certain ethnic groups are at higher risk of developing dementia than others. Those of South Asian background (such as India or Pakistan) are more likely to develop dementia more often than white Europeans. Similarly, those of Afro-Caribbean and African-Caribbean background are more likely to develop dementia more often.
Having a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s disease increases your chances of developing the disease slightly compared to those who have no family history. However, it doesn’t mean dementia is inevitable for you
There is evidence that a healthy lifestyle, especially in mid-life, can help to 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.
Physical inactivity is one of the strongest lifestyle risk factors for developing dementia. Doing regular moderate exercise can be one of the best ways to help reduce your risk of dementia. It can also help improve your cardiovascular health and mental wellbeing. NHS Choices recommends doing around 2.5 hours of exercise each week.
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.
If you smoke, it’s strongly advised that you try to give up – it is never too late to quit. Even if you stop smoking later in life it will benefit your overall health and may reduce your risk of dementia. Our Pharmacist can offer advice on how to quit and recommend Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products that can help you.
Train your brain
Keeping your mind stimulated may help reduce your risk of dementia. Regular mental activity such as learning a new language, doing puzzles and playing cards can help delay the symptoms of dementia.
There is some evidence that keeping socially active may also reduce your dementia risk, so try to visit family and friends or try joining a social group or club.