Prevention and risk factors

How to reduce your risk of dementia or delay its impact

Unfortunately, there are some risk factors you can’t change, these include:

Age: people diagnosed with dementia tend to be over the age of 65. Above this age, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every five years. Over the age of 80 there is a one in six chance of developing dementia.

Ethnicity: certain ethnic communities appear to be at higher risk of dementia than others. For example, South Asian and African or African-Caribbean people seem to develop dementia more often than white Europeans. Specific risk factors associated with these communities such as stroke, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, as well as differences in diet, smoking, exercise and genes, are thought to explain this.

Gender: more women are affected by dementia than men. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men two to one. Twice as many women over the age of 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than men whereas vascular dementia is diagnosed in slightly more men than women.

Genetics: in rare cases, Alzheimer’s disease can be passed from one generation to another. This type of dementia usually affects people under the age of 65.

However, although getting older is undeniably the biggest risk factor for dementia, research suggests up to one in three cases of dementia are preventable. Modifiable risk factors include:

  • diabetes
  • high alcohol intake
  • high blood pressure
  • lack of exercise
  • low educational attainment
  • obesity
  • poor physical health
  • smoking

Prevention

Some ways to reduce these risk factors are:

  • Having regular health care checks with your GP. If you have a long-term condition like diabetes or thyroid problems, it’s important to keep it well managed
  • Taking advantage of ‘well-person health checks’ at your GP surgery so your blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels are monitored and well managed
  • Understanding what your prescribed medication is for and ensuring that you take the right dose, and that you have regular reviews with your GP
  • Seeking support with your diet and monitoring of weight loss, if your weight has changed over the years, to ensure you’re eating healthily and the weight loss is maintained

Ten “brain healthy” foods include:

  • berries
  • beans, lentils, soya
  • fish
  • green leafy vegetables
  • nuts
  • olive oil
  • other colourful vegetables
  • poultry
  • red wine – in moderation
  • wholegrains

Five foods considered to be unhealthy include:

  • butter and margarine
  •  cheese
  • fried and fast foods
  • pastries and sweets
  • red meats
  • Drinking less alcohol. At most, you should aim to drink no more than 14 units each week. If you regularly drink much more than this, you’re at risk of alcohol-related brain damage
  • Asking your GP about support to stop smoking, if applicable, so you’re more likely to be successful
  • Keeping physically fit throughout your life; for example regular exercise like walking and swimming and group activities like tennis and fitness classes. The NHS website tells you how much physical activity you need to do to stay healthy. Why not take on a challenge for Dementia UK?
  • Making sure you keep socially active; talk to people in group situations as well as one to one
  • Taking part in hobbies like art, woodwork, learning a new language, knitting, puzzles and listening to music. These will stimulate different areas of the brain and help with attention and concentration

Read our information leaflets

Our free information leaflets are written by our specialist dementia nurses and put together in response to the questions we hear on our Helpline and in the community

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Dementia Helpline

We know that living with dementia can be a hard and lonely experience. Our specialist Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline, offers expert guidance and practical solutions

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Watch our advice videos

We’ve put together a number of videos featuring our Admiral Nurses giving advice on subjects such as ‘Looking after yourself as a carer’ and ‘What to do when someone stops recognising you’

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