Dementia: what can you do to reduce your risk?

Are there are any medicines I can take to reduce my dementia risk?

It would be great if popping a pill could lower your risk of getting dementia. In recent years, many commonly used medicines, including statins, aspirin and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have been touted as having potential in preventing dementia. Claims have been based on theories about how these medicines work in other conditions, such as heart disease, or from results of small studies. However, when more robust, large-scale clinical trials have been carried out, the results have been far less promising.

Although research is ongoing, currently, there are no medicines recommended for the prevention of dementia; and this includes statins, aspirin and HRT.

Does my diet make a difference?

Early research has suggested that eating oily fish or taking fish oil supplements rich in a substance called omega-3, could reduce risk of dementia. Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel and herring. However, there is currently no reliable evidence from large-scale trials to prove that omega-3 is of benefit to brain function in healthy older people. That’s not to say that fish oils are not beneficial, but more longer term studies are needed to investigate this effect. Oily fish is still recommended as part of a healthy diet, as it could have other health benefits.

Similarly, B-vitamins have been suggested as having some association with prevention of dementia, but there isn’t currently enough evidence to prove this.

With the specific benefits of certain foods unproven, your best bet is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, which helps to maintain your overall health.

Does being mentally active help to prevent dementia?

You may have read stories in the media over the past few years about doing crosswords or playing board games to stave off dementia. But is there any truth in it?

There’s good evidence that mental stimulation can be beneficial for people with mild dementia. It’s thought that this can slow down the decline in their memory and thinking. Mental stimulation can include a range of activities, such as:

  • having group discussions
  • doing word games or puzzles
  • playing a musical instrument
  • practical activities for example baking or indoor gardening

Some research does also suggest that healthy people who are more mentally active may have a lower risk of developing dementia at all. However, a lot of the research looking at this has been poor in quality. More research is needed before a link can be confirmed. In the meantime, if you enjoy doing the odd crossword, playing cards or reading your daily newspaper, it certainly can’t hurt to pursue these types of activity.

Healthy body, healthy mind

So, is there anything else you can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia? Some of the risk factors for dementia, such as age and genetics, you can do nothing about. However, there are a number of other risk factors that are in your power to change. These tend to be the same things that are associated with risk of cardiovascular disease. They include whether you smoke, how active you are and if you are obese.

It’s yet to be proven that making lifestyle changes does reduce dementia risk. However, the following factors are known to be beneficial for your cardiovascular health, so it’s well worth thinking about if there’s any changes you can make. As well as helping to protect your heart, it’s likely they could have the added benefit of reducing your chance of developing dementia.

  • If you smoke, stop smoking.
  • Aim to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don’t drink alcohol to excess.
  • Keep physically active.
  • If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, take measures to control these conditions.

So, although dementia can’t be completely prevented, there are certain things you can do to give yourself the lowest possible chance of developing the condition. Dementia may be on the rise – but it needn’t be an inevitable part of ageing.

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