4 ways to cut your risk
‘Many of the changes that can lead to dementia happen 10 or 15 years before symptoms appear,’ says Dr Laura Phipps, ‘so looking after yourself, particularly in mid life, is vital. There’s a strong connection between dementia and heart health – if the bloo
1 GET HEART HEALTHY
Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly over the age of 40, especially if you have a family history of dementia or cardiovascular problems. The largest-ever analysis of the links between blood pressure and vascular dementia found that having high blood pressure between the ages of 30 and 50 was associated with a 62% higher risk of vascular dementia later in life.
2 START MOVING
More than 20% of Alzheimer’s cases are potentially preventable just by becoming more active, according to a major study published in The Lancet. Another review found that people aged 55 to 80 who exercised regularly performed four times better on cognitive tests than couch potatoes. Exercise may even affect the size of your brain – one study found that people with a good level of fitness in their 40s had larger brains 20 years on than those who were unfit. As well as increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise may also generate chemical changes in the brain that may be neuroprotective.
The latest research has found that
exercise may also be helpful for people who already have memory and thinking problems. When a group of people with vascular dementia did an hour’s exercise three times a week for six months, their overall thinking skills improved.
3 USE IT OR LOSE IT
People with a higher level of education and more mentally demanding occupations seem to have a lower risk of dementia. Learning a language, tackling a new skill or challenging your brain with puzzles or crosswords may also be protective as they stimulate the construction of new neural pathways. In one US study, a group of native English speakers learnt Chinese for six weeks. MRI scans taken before and after showed they had a more connected brain network after the language study, compared to a control group. In a review of 22 studies, people with high levels of mental activity had a 46% lower risk of dementia than those with lower levels.
4 TRAIN YOUR BRAIN
A computer brain-training program could reduce the number of cases of dementia and cognitive decline over a decade by a third, according to a study at the University of South Florida. When the ACTIVE study tested several different types of brain training in nearly 3,000 healthy older adults, they found a 33% reduced risk of cases of cognitive impairment or dementia. Other researchers from King’s College London have designed online games to help improve reasoning and problem-solving. They found that playing the games for around 10 minutes a day improved memory and reasoning in everyday life. You can take part in their latest study at protectstudy.org.uk.
Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain
Start early: solving puzzles helps create new neural pathways