10 ways to reduce your risk of dementia
As you get older, your risk of dementia increases and that’s something you have no control over. However, various risk factors have been recognised that can contribute to whether you develop dementia, and most of these you can do something about.
It’s never too late to start developing good habits that can keep you healthy and active well into old age. Here we run down 10 ways that you can help to reduce your risk of dementia.
Use your brain
As the old adage says, ‘use it or lose it’, which is true when it comes to matters of the mind. You need to keep your brain stimulated and active every day, and this can help it to stay healthy for longer. This can be anything from the daily crossword puzzle to reading a book – both of which tax the brain and encourage it to stay active. This helps to reduce your risk of dementia. Learning a new skill, such as a language or musical instrument are other great ways of keeping your brain busy.
Exercise is so important to our current and ongoing health. Not exercising on a regular basis can cause you to put on weight (see the problems associated with this below), and have an increased risk of heart disease. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, as long as it’s regular and is enough to get you mildly breathless. The NHS recommends that for adults aged under 64, you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week (or 75 minutes of more intense, vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both) as well as strength exercises that work all your major muscles. This can include brisk walking, gym classes, swimming, running, cycling – whatever you enjoy! For adults over the age of 65, the guidelines are broadly the same, but just be careful not to overdo it and to include exercises that maintain or improve your balance and coordination.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is so important to our general health and mental wellbeing. There isn’t yet a clear link between poor sleep and dementia, however not having enough sleep can contribute to other areas that are risk factors. For example, those who sleep less are more likely to choose an unhealthy diet, as they look for foods to give a quick energy rush. You are also more likely to feel stressed, anxious or low when you don’t have enough sleep over a prolonged period of time. You’re less likely to want to exercise or spend time socialising if you are over tired. Getting into good sleep habits is worthwhile for your longterm health.
Loneliness is a big problem in the UK and spending the majority of your time alone can have serious effects. For a start, it can affect mental health and lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety, which in turn can be a risk factor for dementia. It can also lead to cognitive decline. Having an active social life is one way that you can decrease your dementia risk factor. This can include going to an exercise class, taking up a group hobby, attending a class, going to a social group – anything where you get to regularly meet up with likeminded people and socialise.
Watch your weight
If you are overweight or obese, you are more at risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes than a person who is of normal weight. Both of these health conditions have been cited as risk factors for dementia. It’s best to try and keep your weight within normal parameters. If you are overweight now, there is still time to get your health sorted. Try and start eating a healthy, balanced diet, drink plenty of water and take exercise. It can be hard getting started, so you may wish to visit your GP for advice, as there are plenty of referral programs and diet plans they can provide you with, depending on your weight, to get you going.
Eat good foods
There has been a lot of research into the effect of our diet when it comes to dementia prevention. Eating a good, balanced mix of foods is the best way to keep your body and brain healthy, and in turn lower your risk of developing dementia. The most commonly cited diet to follow is the Mediterranean diet. This means eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains every day, adding in oily fish and dairy. You can also eat meat – not excessively and ideally lean cuts – and a low intake of sugar and saturated fat. Nothing is really off-limits; it’s more about moderation. Eat natural, unprocessed foods where possible and it will benefit your overall health for a long time to come.
Drink enough water
Just as with eating a balanced diet, making sure you drink enough is important too. Water is perfect, as it hydrates our bodies and keeps all our organs working correctly. It helps the brain to stay healthy and it’s a cheap, easy and accessible habit that we can all take on board. If you don’t like plain water, try adding a slice or lemon or lime for flavour, or even a small amount of squash. Ideally, you want to have 6-8 glasses of fluid every day, including water, milk, tea or coffee.
Take up a hobby
Having a hobby that you enjoy is a great way to keep your mind active. Learning something new uses your brain in different ways and there are options to suit everyone. You might want to learn to speak a new language, pick up a new knitting style, take up a sport… anything goes! You can choose hobbies that you can do at home or, even better, ones that involve a group of people so that you maintain an active social life too. Your local community centre is a good place to start, as they may have meetups for people with common interests, such as gardening groups, baking classes or painting sessions, for example.
Take care of your mental health
Depression and dementia are often linked together. According to the NHS website page about dementia prevention, untreated depression can increase your risk of getting dementia, but also depression can be a symptom of dementia itself. When you suffer from depression, you may have a low mood and not want to engage in activities that you usually enjoy, which can in turn increase your risk of dementia. It is best to get help if you are feeling low or anxious at the earliest symptoms. It is also a good idea to take care of your mental health every day, as a build up of stress can take its toll on your brain over time. Engage in relaxing activities that you enjoy to wind down and take rest when you need it.
Manage your vices
We know that smoking and drinking are not good for us for many different reasons, but they can contribute to the onset of dementia. Smoking can raise your blood pressure and increase the risk of vascular problems, which is considered a risk factor for dementia. It is best to quit completely, as this will help you to stay healthier for longer. The NHS Smokefree website can help you get started. Drinking alcohol above the recommended levels can also increase your risk of stroke, heart disease and some cancers, and it can also cause damage to the nervous system and brain. Stick to no more than 14 units a week, spread out over the week and not all in one go, with plenty of drink-free days in between.