Our risk of developing dementia doubles every five years after we turn 65, but what many of us don’t realise is that the disease often starts in middle age. The tangles and plaques of protein that do the damage in the most common form of dementia begin to develop 10-20 years before those classic symptoms of confusion and memory loss begin.
While factors such as age and genetics are hard to avoid, a study carried out in December suggests that we might have an element of control. The study asked 2,000 men aged 45-49 to stick to a number of healthy lifestyle rules, and those who did slashed their risk by 60%.
As of yet there is not enough research to establish a lifestyle ‘recipe’ as such, however the following measures have been shown to help minimise risk:
1. Get checks for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
Those who have untreated conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol have been shown to have higher risks of developing dementia. Being checked regularly and taking appropriate action could vastly reduce your risk.
The most amount of evidence gained by studies into the prevention of dementia revolves around exercise. Helping to reduce blood pressure, maintain weight and improve vascular health – exercising regularly is perhaps the most important thing you can do to lower your chances of dementia.
3. Drink tea and eat chocolate
Before you justify a large cup of black tea and a bar of Dairy Milk, keep in mind that it’s the flavonoids in tea and chocolate that seem to make the difference – and there’s more of those in green tea and dark chocolate. Studies have shown that diets rich in flavonoids can protect cognitive function thanks to their antioxidant properties.
4. Eat a Mediterranean inspired diet
The combination of omega-3 rich oily fish, fresh vegetables, nuts and olive oil found in Mediterranean diets make it inherently healthy. While researchers are unsure which factor is the most important, doctors feel very strongly about this diet to prevent dementia.
5. Enjoy coffee and alcohol in moderation
Studies show that a small amount of caffeine (three cups of coffee) per day, can either prevent dementia or at least delay it. Going over this amount may have more negative effects than benefits, so keeping to three cups is key. In regards to alcohol, a small amount of alcohol (1-6 drinks a week) has been shown to cut your risk too. Red wine appears to be the best alcohol for this, but experts warn that any more alcohol negates the effects.
6. Deal with stress and depression
Stress is emerging as a key risk for dementia; this could be because of the stress hormone cortisol which causes high blood pressure and may harm brain cells. A link between depression and dementia has also been seen, with those suffering long-term depression at greater risk of developing dementia. Seeking help for stress and depression when symptoms appear could help to lower your risk.
7. Keep your brain active
While evidence for using crosswords and Sudoku to help prevent dementia sadly isn’t there, it appears that challenging you brain with different tasks could be beneficial. Try learning a new skill or hobby and take different routes to work to keep your mind active and challenged.