RISK FACTORS AND HOW WE MAY BE ABLE TO REDUCE OUR RISK OF DEMENTIA

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are complex diseases. This article aims to outline some of these risk factors and how we may be able to reduce our risk of dementia.

Risk factors for dementia

The biggest risk factor for dementia is age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop the condition, but it is not an inevitable part of ageing. About two in 100 people aged 65 to 69 years have dementia, and this figure rises to 19 in 100 for those aged 85 to 89.

In most cases, our age, genes, medical history and life choices all contribute to our risk of developing the condition. However, certain black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups may be more likely to develop dementia than others, due to their higher risk of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Does dementia run in the family?

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As dementia is so common, many of us will have a relative living with the condition – but this does not mean we will get it too. Directly inherited dementia is rare.

If you have a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s disease, your risk may be higher than someone with no family history. However, in most cases, the genes we inherit from our parents only have a relatively small effect on our risk of developing dementia.

In very rare cases, someone may inherit a faulty gene that causes a specific form of dementia. Some rare forms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia are caused by faulty genes, and these can run in families. Symptoms of these genetic forms of dementia often start in the 30s, 40s or 50s.

How to reduce your risk of dementia

Although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence shows there are things you can do to help reduce your own risk. These include keeping active, eating healthily and exercising your mind.

  1.  Be physically active

Doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. It’s good for your heart, circulation, weight and mental wellbeing.

It’s important to find a way of exercising that works for you. You might find it helpful to start off with a small amount of activity and build it up gradually. Even 10 minutes at a time is good for you and try to avoid long sitting down for too long.

  1.  Eat healthily
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A healthy, balanced diet may reduce your risk of dementia, as well as other conditions including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.

  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. 
  • Eat protein (such as oily fish, beans, pulses, eggs or meat) at least twice a week. 
  • Limit your sugar intake, and look out for hidden salt. 
  • Eat starchy foods like bread, potatoes and pasta.
  • Eat less saturated fat
  • Drink 6–8 glasses of fluid (such as water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks) a day.
  1.  Don’t smoke

If you smoke, you’re putting yourself at much higher risk of developing dementia. You’re also increasing your risk of other conditions, including type 2 diabetes, stroke, and lung and other cancers. 

Smoking does a lot of harm to the circulation of blood around the body, including the blood vessels in the brain, as well as the heart and lungs.

Exercise your mind

Keeping your mind active is likely to reduce your risk of dementia. Regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease. One way to think about it is ‘Use it or lose it’.

Find something you like doing that challenges your brain and do it regularly. It’s important to find something that you’ll keep up. For example: 

  • study for a qualification or course, or just for fun 
  • learn a new language 
  • do puzzles, crosswords or quizzes 
  • play card games or board games 
  • read challenging books or write (fiction or non-fiction). 
  • Talking and communicating with other people may also help to reduce your risk of dementia. Make an effort to keep in touch with the people who are important to you, such as friends and family. 

Source: Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimersresearchuk.

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