Can dementia be prevented?
There's no certain way to prevent all types of dementia – researchers are still investigating how the disease develops.
However, there's good evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing dementia when you're older.
Risk factors for dementia
A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of developing a condition.
Some dementia risk factors are difficult or impossible to change. These include:
- Age: the older you are, the more likely you are to develop dementia. However, dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing.
- Genes: by and large, genes alone are not thought to cause dementia. Although certain genetic factors are involved with some more unusual forms of dementia, for the most part dementia develops as a combination of genetic and "environmental" factors, such as smoking and lack of regular exercise.
- Lower levels of education.
In addition, the latest research suggests that other factors are also important. These include:
The research concluded that by modifying the risk factors we are able change, our risk of dementia could be reduced by up to 30%.
Experts agree that what's good for your heart is also good for your brain. This means you can help reduce your risk of dementia by:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly
- keeping alcohol to a minimum
- stopping smoking
- keeping blood pressure at a healthy level
Diet and dementia
What you can do: eat a healthy, balanced diet following the Eatwell Guide.
Weight and dementia
What you can do: check if your weight is within the healthy range using the healthy weight calculator. If you are overweight or obese, even losing 5 to 10% of the excess weight can help to reduce your risk of dementia.
Read more about losing weight.
Exercise and dementia
The risk: a lack of regular physical activity can increase your risk of heart disease, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes – all of which are risk factors for dementia. Older adults who don't exercise are also more likely to have problems with memory or thinking (known as cognitive abilities).
What you can do: follow the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking, cycling or dancing. You should also do strengthening exercises twice a week, such as gardening or yoga.
It's also important to sit less, so try to get up and move around regularly. For example, take the stairs and walk up escalators, and make phone calls while standing up.
Alcohol and dementia
The risk: drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases your risk of stroke, heart disease and some cancers, as well as damaging the nervous system, including the brain.
What you can do: stick to the recommended advice of no more than 14 units a week for both men and women. If you regularly drink as much as 14 units in a week, you should try to spread your drinking over three or more days and have several drink-free days each week.
Smoking and dementia
The risk: smoking causes your arteries to narrow, which can raise your blood pressure. It also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as several cancers.
What you can do: if you smoke, try to quit. There's plenty of help available on the NHS. Call the free NHS Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044 or visit the NHS Smokefree website for advice and information.
Depression and dementia
The risk: the relationship between dementia and depression is complex. It appears that having untreated depression increases your risk of developing dementia but, equally, depression can occur as part of the overall symptoms of dementia itself.
Regardless, low mood, anxiety or depression can all affect your ability to be socially active and engage in mentally stimulating activities.
What you can do: if you're concerned that you, a relative or friend may be depressed, talk to your GP. They may refer you for counselling or talking therapies. Try these tips for coping with depression.
Have an NHS Health Check
An NHS Health Check is a free check-up of your overall health for people aged 40 to 74 who do not have heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease, and haven't had a stroke. It is offered every five years.
The health check can help spot early signs and tell you if you're at higher risk of certain health problems that can also increase your risk of dementia. These include:
- heart disease
- kidney disease
In some areas, you'll be told the signs and symptoms of dementia to look out for. You'll also be given advice on how to lower your risk of health problems.
If you haven't been invited for an NHS Health Check, ask your GP.
Media review due: 14 April 2021
Page last reviewed: 16 June 2017
Next review due: 16 June 2020