Six ways to ward off dementia

May 20, 2019


To mark Alzheimers Society’s Dementia Action Week 2019, Nial Joyce shares six ways that you can take action now to significantly reduce your chances of developing dementia. Making core healthy lifestyle choices, especially in mid-life, can significantly reduce your risk later on. If you start to introduce as many of these things as you can now, you’ll reap the rewards in your golden years.

Exercise – This is the big one. Regular physical exercise, for example cycling, swimming or brisk walking, can lower your risk of dementia by 30 per cent and Alzheimer’s disease by a whopping 45 per cent. Of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, taking regular exercise appears to be one of the best things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia. The NHS advise that adults aged between 19 – 64 should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and strength exercises on two or more days a week. Aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial. In a modest-sized controlled trial* of healthy older people, one year of aerobic exercise resulted in a small increase in the size of the hippocampus (the key brain area involved in memory). This is the equivalent of reversing one to two years’ of age-related shrinkage.

2  Diet – A balanced diet may not only help to reduce the risk of dementia, but it’s good for you in so many other ways too, not least in helping to maintain a healthy weight. Cut down on saturated fat, salt, dairy and meat, and include plenty of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. Don’t forget to reduce your alcohol intake, too.

3  Work your brain –  people who keep their brains active throughout life with cognitively stimulating activities such as reading, writing and playing games appear to have reduced levels of beta-amyloid. The presence of this protein is a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The Times crossword, anyone?

4    Vitamin D – Our skin isn’t able to make vitamin D from the winter sun in the UK (November to March) as the sunlight hasn’t got enough ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation in it. Even in the sunny months we know it can be a challenge in this country. The solution? Get out in the sun as much as you can (follow sunscreen guidelines for your skin type); consider taking a multi-vitamin supplement and up your intake of oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon. Some fat spreads and cereals are also fortified with vitamin D.

5    Don’t stress – Stress is hugely detrimental to good health and several studies have pointed to a link between dementia and stress, although little is known about why this is. The best solution? Whenever you feel the panic rising, take some deep breaths and count to 10. Kick the caffeine habit, and try yoga, meditation and mindfulness, all of which help to re-focus the mind towards a calmer state.

6  Stay social – Keeping socially and mentally active into mid and later life may help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you can combine social, physical and mental activity that’s even better! Visit friends, volunteer at a local charity, join a walking or running group or even a pub quiz team – it all counts!

The message? Keep active, eat well, soak up the sun, challenge yourself, make time for friends and stay cool as a cucumber. All of these things could help protect you against developing dementia in later life, and they will also reduce your risk factors for many other serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. It’s worth remembering that none of these measures are foolproof. Unfortunately the risks of developing the disease simply increase with age, and similar to a non-smoker who develops lung cancer, there is often no particular reason for the disease’s onset. However by taking note of the points above you can try to minimise your risks.

And remember, from experience of working in the dementia care sector for many years, life certainly doesn’t stop with a diagnosis. There are many, many sufferers who, with help and support, continue to have a fulfilling life for a very long time.

*Information sourced from The Alzheimer’s Society