How to cut your risk of dementia

Daniel Coughlin / 27 July 2017

A major review by The Lancet says simple lifestyle changes may reduce your dementia risk by up to 35%. Find out more.



The Lancet’s review identified nine key lifestyle risk factors that may lower an individual's risk of developing dementia by 35%. It's worth pointing out that 65% of the overall risk is down to factors you can't change such as ageing and genetics, and one of the lifestyle factors applies to earlier on in life. Yet, you can still reduce your risk significantly by making the following healthy changes if, of course, they apply to you.

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Tackle hearing loss - 9.1%

The Lancet reports that treating hearing loss in middle age can lower the risk of dementia by 9.1%.  Dr Piers Dawes, a neuro-psychologist at Manchester University says there's no evidence to suggest that hearing impairment has a direct impact on brain health. But people with untreated hearing loss may socialise less and experience reduced cognitive stimulation, which can heighten their dementia risk. If you've noticed changes in your hearing, however subtle, make an appointment to see your GP and get the symptoms investigated.

Is it time for a hearing test?

What’s new in hearing help?

10 ways to protect your hearing

Stay mentally active - 7.5%

Failing to complete secondary education can increase the risk of dementia by 7.5%, according to the Lancet review. Not the best news if you left school at 15 with no qualifications, but advice from Alzheimer's UK states that you can reduce your risk of dementia at any age by merely keeping mentally active. Everything from learning a language and playing chess, to reading a challenging book can boost cognitive reserves and help ward off the disease.

Games to keep your mind active

Quit smoking – 5.5%

The Lancet review found that smoking contributes 5.5% towards the risk of developing dementia, and a previous study from the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that smokers are 45% more likely to develop dementia than non-smokers. The habit damages the arteries, causes oxidative stress and exacerbates inflammation in the brain, all markers of dementia. Still smoking? Now is the time to quit. See your doctor and/or visit the NHS Smokefree site for help giving up.

Help to stop smoking

Treat your depression – 4%

Untreated depression accounts for 4% of the dementia risk, as reported by The Lancet. Clinical depression affects one in 10 people at some point during their life but studies have shown that many people who experience depression fail to seek help or don't get the right treatment. If you're feeling unusually low, make an appointment to see your GP, who can offer a sympathetic ear, prescribe medication or refer you to a counsellor or psychologist for talking therapy.

How to spot depression

Get moving - 2.6%

Physical fitness is associated with higher levels of cognition, so it's hardly surprising that a lack of exercise can increase your risk of developing dementia. The Lancet review found that people who fail to take regular exercise are 2.6% more likely to develop dementia. As per the official NHS advice, you want to aim for either 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and strength exercises, or 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity and strength exercises, every week.

Exercise to keep your mind sharp

Exercise is good for your brain

Socialise more – 2.3%

Social isolation ups the risk of dementia by 2.3% as per the findings of the Lancet review. A lack of social contact has been found to have a detrimental affect on mental health, which may explain the link with dementia, we are social animals after all. If you're a homebody who rarely ventures out, try to make more of an effort to see family and friends, or think about joining a social group or getting involved in the local community.

15 ways to beat loneliness

Tackle loneliness and help your health

Control your high blood pressure – 2%

High blood pressure damages blood vessels in the brain, raising the risk of dementia by 2%. According to Blood Pressure UK, this damage can lead to vascular dementia, which adversely affects memory, thinking and language skills.

It's a good idea to see your GP or surgery nurse and get your blood pressure checked whether you're experiencing the red-flag symptoms or not, especially if you're overweight or have a family history of hypertension.

Visit our blood pressure section

Learn more about vascular dementia

Manage your type 2 diabetes – 1.2%

Type 2 diabetes is another chronic condition that can increase your risk of dementia if it isn't managed properly. The Lancet review found that untreated or poorly managed type 2 diabetes contributes 1.2% towards the overall risk.

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? Make sure you take any prescribed medication correctly and try to get your body mass index (BMI) and waist to height ratio to within a healthy range by eating healthily and exercising when you can.

What you need to know about type 2 diabetes

Watch your weight – 0.57%

Obesity was found to increase the risk of dementia by 0.8%, which doesn't seem too significant a factor but could make all the difference in some people. People who are obese are more likely to have high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which as we know increases the dementia risk.

If your body mass index (BMI) is over 30 and you have a waist to height ratio of more than 0.57, see your GP or visit the NHS Live Well site for help losing the excess weight.

Seven days to weight loss

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.