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Prevention and risk factors

Can you prevent dementia or reduce the risk?

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent dementia, there is evidence that there are some things you can do to reduce the risk. Some of these changes are easier to make than others; however, research suggests that up to one in three cases of dementia could be prevented through a healthy lifestyle.

Dementia risks that can be reduced

While age is the biggest factor in developing dementia, there are 12 ‘modifiable risks’ – in other words, risks that could potentially be reduced through people’s lifestyle choices. These are:

  • physical inactivity
  • smoking
  • high alcohol intake
  • air pollution
  • head injury
  • social isolation
  • lower levels of education
  • obesity
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • diabetes
  • depression
  • hearing impairment

With further research, it is likely that lack of sleep will be added to this list.

Tips for reducing the risk of dementia

Ask your GP surgery for a free ‘NHS health check’

This involves checking things like your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, weight and waist measurement to look for factors that could increase the risk of health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and stroke. If these are properly treated or managed, the risk of dementia may be reduced.

Have regular health checks with your GP

If you have a long-term health condition like diabetes, heart disease or thyroid problems, it is especially important to have regular reviews. If these conditions are poorly managed, it could increase the risk of dementia.

Take medication as prescribed

Make sure you understand what any prescribed medication is for. Always follow the instructions to ensure that you are taking it correctly and attend any check-ups that your GP or other specialist recommends.

Maintain a healthy weight

You can do this through a combination of a healthy diet and regular physical activity. If you are overweight, it is a good idea to seek support with improving your diet, increasing the amount of exercise you do, and monitoring any weight loss or gain – especially if your weight has increased over the years. Your GP can give you advice on this, or you can download a free NHS 12-week weight loss plan.

Ensure you are eating healthily

Take a look at your diet to identify where you could make improvements – for example by eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods (eg brown bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice), less sugar and fat, and fewer processed foods like sausages, bacon, white bread, pastry products and ready meals. The NHS Eatwell Guide has lots of useful information.

Drink alcohol only in moderation

The most alcohol anyone should drink is 14 units a week, with at least four alcohol-free days each week and no bingeing. You can check how much alcohol you are drinking at Drinkaware.

There is no completely safe level of alcohol intake, but if you regularly drink much more than the recommended limit, you are at increased risk of alcohol-related brain damage.

Stop smoking

If you are a smoker, ask your GP about what help is available to stop – you are more likely to succeed if you have support. You could also find support through your local Stop Smoking Service.

Keep physically fit throughout your life

Taking regular exercise like walking, running, cycling, swimming, and group activities such as tennis and fitness classes will help you stay active and healthy. Even moderate-intensity household tasks like gardening and vacuuming count.

Being physically fit can reduce the risk of health problems like type two diabetes and heart disease, which in turn reduces the risk of dementia. The NHS website has guidance on how much activity you should aim to do.

Book a hearing test

Hearing loss in mid-life may be an early sign of dementia. It may also mean that the areas of the brain that process sound and speech have to work harder, which could affect the function of other parts of the brain that are responsible for thinking and memory.

You can ask your GP to refer you to an NHS audiologist, but you may have to wait – alternatively, many opticians and pharmacies offer hearing checks, and they are often free.

Make sure you keep socially active

It is not fully known why social isolation increases the risk of dementia, but it could be because it is linked to other risk factors – for example, people who are isolated are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol more heavily, lack exercise and experience depression.

Take time to keep up with family and friends, ideally in person but also by phone, video call or message. Look for ways to meet new people, and talk to them in group situations as well as one to one. This will help to reduce loneliness and the risk of depression.

Take part in mentally stimulating activities

Hobbies like art, woodwork, learning a new language, knitting, puzzles and listening to music will stimulate different areas of the brain and help with attention and concentration. Many activities will also give you chances to socialise.

Protect your head

Always wear a helmet if you are cycling, and proper head protection if you play a contact sport where it is recommended.

Dementia risk factors that cannot be changed

There are some risk factors for dementia that cannot be reduced. These include:

Age: most people who develop dementia are over 65. Above this age, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every five years.

People over the age of 80 have a one in six chance of developing dementia. Around one-third of people aged 90 and over have dementia.

However, dementia can develop at any age and around 70,800 people in the UK live with young onset dementia (where signs develop before the age of 65).

Ethnicity: people from certain ethnic backgrounds appear to have a higher risk of developing dementia. For example, people of Black and South Asian heritage people seem to be at greater risk than White people.

This may be because Black and South Asian people are more likely to have health conditions that are linked with dementia, such as stroke, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Gender: more women develop dementia than men. Two out of every three people with dementia are female, and twice as many women as men die of dementia.

Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, whereas men are slightly more likely to develop vascular dementia.

Genetics: although most cases of dementia are not inherited, some people do have a genetic or ‘familial’ form. People under the age of 65 are at greater risk of a genetic form of dementia, including:

  • frontotemporal dementia: this is most common in people aged 40-65, and around 30-40% of cases are thought to be inherited
  • familial Alzheimer’s disease – but only one in every 100 cases of Alzheimer’s is believed to have a genetic link

While these risk factors cannot be avoided, it is still worth making healthy lifestyle choices that could reduce the chances of developing dementia.

Sources of support

To speak to a dementia specialist Admiral Nurse about reducing the risk of dementia or any other aspect of dementia, please call our free Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm; Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays 9am-5pm) or email

Alternatively, you can pre-book a phone or video call appointment in our virtual clinic.


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