10 ways to help reduce your risk of dementia

It’s a question many people want the answer to. Find out what steps you can take to prevent or reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and other types of dementia

Dementia is one of the biggest health concerns of the 21st century, but can it be prevented? The answer is that it depends on what is actually causing the dementia symptoms, and this can range from neurodegenerative diseases to nutritional deficiencies. While there are numerous causes of dementia, the good news is that taking steps now can, in some cases, actually help reduce your chances of developing it.

your dementia prevention top 10

Can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body and frontotemporal dementia (Pick's disease)?

For many years, people believed it wasn’t possible to prevent Alzheimer’s, Lewy body and frontotemporal dementia (sometimes known as Pick's disease). That’s because some of the main causes or risk factors are things you can’t do much about – for example age or genetics.

What can you do?
However, more recent research does suggest that taking simple steps to improve your lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising and staying socially and mentally active, may still help reduce your risk of developing them - and even if they don’t, they won’t do much harm either.

Can you prevent vascular dementia?

It’s slightly easier to reduce your chances of developing vascular dementia because the causes are more commonly related to lifestyle choices and general health. People who have high blood pressure (hypertension), smoke, have a poor diet, high blood cholesterol, don’t exercise, are overweight or obese or drink too much alcohol are all at a higher risk of developing vascular dementia.

What can you do?
Taking steps to avoid these – in the same way as you might try to avoid other health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes – could help.

Can you prevent Korsakoff syndrome?

This particular dementia is closely linked to drinking alcohol and alcoholism. That’s because people who drink tend to have poor a poor diet with low levels of vitamin B1, which is the main cause of the syndrome. Plus, drinking alcohol interferes with the absorption of this vitamin.

What can you do?
The good news is that you can slow down and even stop Korsakoff syndrome by detoxing, abstaining from alcohol, eating a healthy diet and taking high doses of vitamin B1. By taking these steps, most people see an improvement in symptoms with two years. It’s thought that about a quarter of those affected make a very good recovery. About half make a partial recovery and need support to manage their lives, but may still be able to live in their own homes. A further quarter make no recovery and generally need long-term residential care.

Good to know

There are several other conditions which cause dementia-like symptoms, such as memory loss, but which can be prevented, or treated successfully. These include:

Nutrient deficiency

Dementia-like symptoms, including memory loss and confusion, can occur as a result of not having enough B vitamins, not just vitamin B1, but also B-6 and B-12 in their diet. This could be caused by a generally poor diet. Dehydration can also cause confusion and memory problems.

What can you do?
Boost your vitamin B levels with a supplement, and with vitamin B-rich foods in your diet. These include pork, poultry (such as chicken or turkey), fish, bread, wholemeal cereals – such as oatmeal, wheat germ and brown rice, eggs, vegetables, and soya beans.

Infections

Urinary tract infections have been linked to dementia symptoms, particularly in the elderly, so it’s important to recognise if this is a problem, and that the infection is treated – most commonly with antibiotics. Other infections including brain infections such as meningitis and encephalitis, untreated syphilis, and conditions that cause a compromised immune system such as leukaemia can also cause dementia-like symptoms.

What can you do?
Get infections diagnosed and treated as swiftly as possible. If they are bacterial, they can usually be treated with antibiotics. Viral infections may be trickier to treat.

Thyroid and metabolic problems

People who have thyroid issues (such as hypothyroidism) can suffer memory problems. Likewise, hypoglycaemia, (low blood sugar) can also lead to symptoms of dementia.

What can you do?
Both of these issues can be treated with the right kind of medication, so it’s important that they’re properly diagnosed by your GP.

Depression and anxiety

There is a strong link between both depression and anxiety and memory issues.

What can you do?
Treatments for these problems can vary, depending on the severity of them. They may require a combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. However, the good news is that they can be treated, which will hopefully then have a positive effect on any memory problems.

Your dementia prevention top 10

1 – Eat a healthy diet
2 – Exercise
3 – Stay socially and mentally active
4 – Reduce your alcohol intake
5 – Stay well hydrated
6 – Boost your vitamin B intake
7 – Get urinary tract infections treated as quickly as possible
8 – Get treatments for thyroid disorders
9 – Try talking therapies to help with depression symptoms
10 – Find time to relax and reduce stress