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Recent research has shown that around one third of dementia cases could have been prevented.1. We share nine key factors which could reduce your risk of developing the condition.
A new study which was published recently in the Lancet,1 has listed nine risk factors for dementia. According to this study, more people can avoid dementia if they look after their brain. In fact, up to 35% of dementia risk factors are potentially modifiable. Of course, there are other potentially non-modifiable risk factors, such as age, family history of dementia and genetics, adding up to the remaining 65%.
Here are the nine key factors that the researchers concluded contribute to the risk of dementia. With many of these risk factors, there is clear action you can take in your own life to reduce your chances of developing dementia.
Going deaf in middle age
The study found that losing your hearing in middle age was responsible for 9% of the dementia risk. They hypothesised that this is because losing your hearing can deny you a rich cognitive environment, and lead to social isolation and depression.
It’s not always possible to avoid losing your hearing in middle age, but you can look after your hearing by not listening to music, films or TV too loudly. Using ear protection in loud environments, such as music concerts, can also help to prevent premature hearing loss2.
Less time in education
Less time in education was found to be one of the factors, accounting for 8% of the potentially modifiable risk. The researchers noted that people who continue to learn throughout their lives are likely to build additional brain reserves. Building these reserves involves strengthening the brain’s networks so they can function even if they’re damaged by dementia.
If you’re no longer at school (and regardless of whether you completed school), it’s never too late to make continuous learning a part of your everyday life. Evening classes are a great way to learn new things and develop new skills, which can help to build those all-important brain reserves.
Smoking regularly is responsible for 5% of dementia risk. If you smoke, quitting is a very simple (although often not easy) lifestyle change to reduce your risk of dementia. Smoking is also a risk factor for countless other diseases, so giving it up is one of the most positive steps you can take to improve your health.
Not seeking treatment for depression
Depression is a major risk factor for dementia, accounting for 4% of the risk. The study found that those who did not seek help for their depression were more likely to develop dementia later in life.
If you’re concerned that you may have undiagnosed depression, you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. Depression is a common and very treatable issue. You might also find the NHS depression self-assessment tool useful.
Not being physically active
Not being active enough contributes 3% of dementia risk. The study reports a general finding that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain. Exercising is one of the single best lifestyle choices you can make for both your heart and your brain.
If you’re not currently a very active person, getting started is the most important step. Adults should try and get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week – this can be brisk walking, cycling, swimming and even vigorous housework or gardening. You can tell when you’re doing moderate intensity exercise because you can talk but not sing the words to a song.
Experiencing social isolation
Social isolation accounts for around 2% of dementia risk. It’s highly correlated with hearing loss and depression and it can be both a cause and a symptoms of mental health issues. Older people are particularly vulnerable, although you can experience social isolation at any age. Without regular social interaction, it’s harder to keep the brain sharp.
If you’re alone and finding it hard to maintain social contact with the outside world, reach out to friends and family for help. There are also many charities which are on hand to help. Contact the Elderly is geared up to get older people out of the house and Age UK is just a phone call away, as are the Samaritans.
Having high blood pressure
Having high blood pressure also contributes 2% to your risk of getting dementia. High blood pressure is also bad for your heart – reinforcing the idea that by looking after your heart you can also look after your brain.
Blood pressure does not have one single cause, but you can lower your blood pressure by eating less salt, drinking less alcohol, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight.
Obesity is one of the potentially modifiable factors that contribute to the risk of dementia. Obesity is linked to other dementia risk factors such as high blood pressure, as well as being a major risk factor for heart disease and many cancers.
You can help to maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and taking at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week 3 – which also cuts your dementia risk directly.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition which causes the level of sugar in your blood to become too high. Having type 2 diabetes contributes 1% to the overall dementia risk. However, many of the lifestyle factors involved in avoiding type 2 diabetes overlap with other risk factors for dementia.
To cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes you should eat a healthy diet, lose weight if you need to, take plenty of exercise and drink alcohol only in moderation.
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