Dementia is currently a global health priority due to worldwide ageing populations. It is estimated that every 3 seconds someone in the world develops dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a set of symptoms that people experience when certain brain functions are affected by diseases of the brain.
The most common symptom associated with dementia is memory loss, although all sorts of brain functions can be affected which can impact a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia is the next most common, followed by dementia with Lewy bodies.
While there’s no definitive way to prevent different types of dementia, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that there are ways to reduce your risk of developing it.
By taking action now and making the following healthy lifestyle changes, you can help yourself to avoid developing dementia in later life.
- Don’t smoke/Quit Smoking
Smoking tobacco is one of the most harmful things you can do to your health. Alongside increasing your risk of many forms of cancer and respiratory diseases, the chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells and blood vessels. This causes a build of plaque in your arteries, which makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood around your body and increases your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. It also dramatically increases your risk of developing dementia in later life.
However, it’s never too late to quit smoking and your body begins to recover from the harm it causes almost instantly. If you want to quit smoking, the NHS in Wales offers free stop smoking support including free medication. Talk to your doctor or nurse about stopping smoking or call Help Me Quit for free on 0800 085 2219.
- Be Physically Active
One of the most effective ways of reducing your risk of dementia is to do regular physical activity. Every week, it’s recommended that you do 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity and at least 2 sessions that exercise your muscles. Being more physically active is incredibly beneficial for your heart and circulation; it also helps you to maintain a healthy weight and improves your mental wellbeing.
Find a form of physical activity that’s right for you. The benefits to health are seen in short bursts of activity of just 10 minutes or more. If you make exercise part of your daily routine, you’ll find that it’s easier to achieve the recommended amount. Things like walking or cycling to and from work, or during the working day are god ways of being active. Or if you feel more adventurous, any activity such as running in the park, going to the gym, playing sports are all great ways to be active. You can be physical active alone but doing it with others has the added benefit of reducing social isolation, which is another risk factor of dementia.
- Eat Healthily
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to reduce your risk of dementia, as it will help you to maintain a healthy weight and is beneficial for your cardiovascular health and circulation. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables also helps to protect us against the development of disease. To make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, use the NHS’ Eatwell Guide [INSERT PICTURE OF GUIDE]. It will provide you with pointers such as eating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, eat proteins (such as oily fish, lean meat, beans, pulses, etc.), reduce your intake of sugar, salt and saturated fats, and make sure you stay properly hydrated.
- Drink less alcohol
Regularly drinking more than the recommended guidelines of 14 units a week can increase your risk of developing dementia. People who regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol, particularly over a prolonged period of time, are at risk of developing alcohol-related brain damage, which also increases the risk of developing dementia. 1 unit is equal to about half a pint of larger or 75ml of wine.
If you drink alcohol, the key message is to not regular exceed 14 units per week, to spread the units over three days or more, and to have regular alcohol free days. The advice for older people is to drink less than this amount, and for pregnant women, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.
If you’re drinking more than 14 units a week on a regular basis, try cutting down by setting yourself a limit and keeping track of what and how much you’re drinking. You could also try, low-alcohol alternatives or soft drinks when you’re out.
- Keep your mind active
Research highlights that keeping your mind active is an important factor in reducing your risk of dementia. The Alzheimer’s society refers to this phenomenon as “Use it or lose it”, as challenging your mind builds up its ability to stave off deterioration. This can mean different things to different people and it’s important to find something that you find both mentally stimulating and that you enjoy. Some examples include learning to play an instrument, learning a new language or skill, reading challenging books, doing puzzles and playing board games.
Activities that you can do with other people are especially beneficial as talking and communicating also helps to reduce your risk. Volunteering or joining a club are good ways to meet new and interesting people while keeping your mind active.