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Lifestyle Changes That Could Lower Your Risk of Dementia

October 20, 2020 4 min read

Lifestyle Changes That Could Lower Your Risk of Dementia

Consider this: research strongly indicates that a healthy lifestyle can actually reduce the risk of dementia for nearly everyone, even those with a family history of the condition. 

A study involving nearly 200,000 individuals has demonstrated a noteworthy reduction in risk, up to a third to be precise. 

The distinguished team at the esteemed University of Exeter described these groundbreaking results as truly exhilarating and empowering. 

Importantly, these findings instil a renewed sense of hope, assuring us that individuals are not destined for a future burdened by dementia. These profound insights were unveiled at the revered Alzheimer's Association International Conference.

What counts as a healthy lifestyle?

The researchers gave people a healthy lifestyle score based on a combination of exercise, diet, alcohol and smoking.

This is an example of someone who scored well:

  • Doesn't currently smoke
  • Cycles at normal pace for two-and-a-half hours a week
  • Eats a balanced diet that includes more than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eats fish twice a week and rarely eats processed meat
  • Drinks up to one pint of beer a day

And an unhealthy one?

  • Currently smokes regularly
  • Does no regular exercise
  • Eats a diet that includes less than three servings of fruit and vegetables a week, and includes two or more servings of processed meat and of red meat a week
  • Drinks at least three pints of beer a day

How easy is it to do?


Sue Taylor, aged 62, has witnessed the profound impact of dementia within her family. Both her mother and grandmother were affected by this disease.

Dedicated to preserving her cognitive abilities, Sue diligently participates in exercise classes at the park three times a week, even during the colder months. Additionally, she takes a 45-minute walk before starting her day.

Sue acknowledges that this commitment requires considerable effort, necessitating thoughtful planning and integration into her routine. However, she firmly believes that the rewards outweigh the challenges, particularly when considering the well-being of her grandchildren.

Her unwavering determination to maintain mental acuity serves as a testament to her love and care for them. Sue recognizes the significance of being physically and mentally present in her grandchildren's lives, and she is resolute in ensuring they do not miss out on the cherished experience of having grandparents who are vibrant both in body and mind.

So how big a difference did lifestyle make?

A comprehensive study tracked 196,383 individuals aged 64 and above for eight years. The study analyzed their genetic predisposition to dementia, revealing a high prevalence of 18 cases per 1,000 among those with high-risk genes and unhealthy lifestyles. 

However, when individuals at high risk embraced a lifestyle of care and well-being, the cases reduced to 11 per 1,000. Let's use this knowledge to nourish our minds and bodies for a vibrant future.

It doesn't seem like a big difference?

Although the figures may appear modest, it's important to consider that individuals in their mid-60s, while still relatively youthful in terms of dementia, are at a crucial stage in life where preventive measures can have a significant impact. Recent research highlights the transformative potential of reducing dementia rates by a third, particularly among older age groups where the disease is more prevalent. This potential breakthrough could bring about a positive change in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, as expressed by Dr. David Llewellyn in an enlightening interview with the BBC.

It is worth noting that this type of research, though not establishing definitive causation between lifestyle choices and dementia risk, helps identify significant patterns within the available data. These findings align with prior research and the guidelines provided by the World Health Organization, further reinforcing the importance of adopting a proactive and health-conscious approach to mitigating the risk of dementia. With this newfound knowledge, let us remain motivated and dedicated to maintaining cognitive well-being not just for ourselves, but also for the ones we hold dear.

Can I dodge dementia completely?

Regrettably, even if one leads a virtuous life, the disease can still strike. Lifestyle alters the odds, but alas, no drugs exist to alter its course. Nevertheless, the best we can do is diminish the likelihood. Let us strive to improve our chances, for you are not alone in this journey.

Does this apply to everybody?

The researchers indicate that the findings may not directly pertain to individuals experiencing early onset dementia in their 40s and 50s. However, they believe that these results are likely applicable to older age groups, when dementia becomes more prevalent. 

It is worth noting that the study encompasses dementia as a whole, rather than specific diseases such as Alzheimer's or vascular dementia. This research serves as a valuable contribution to our understanding of dementia, urging us to continue exploring ways to provide support and care to those affected.

What is the key message?

"Even if you're worried about dementia, maybe you've got a family history yourself, what our research suggests is it doesn't matter, Dr David Llewellyn, told the BBC.

"You're still likely to lower your own risk of dementia substantially if you change to a healthy lifestyle.

"That's really empowering."

Fellow researcher Dr Elzbieta Kuzma said it was the first time anyone had shown you could counteract an inherited risk of dementia and the findings were "exciting".

What do the experts say?

Fiona Carragher, from the Alzheimer's Society, commented: "With one person developing dementia every three minutes in the UK, knowing how to lower our dementia risk couldn't be more vital.

"So hit that salad bar, swap a cocktail for a mocktail and get your exercise kit on!"

Dr Carol Routledge, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said the findings were "important".

"This is yet more evidence that there are things we can all do to reduce our risk of developing dementia, yet research suggests that only 34% of adults think that this is possible.

"While we can't change the genes we inherit, this research shows that changing our lifestyle can still help to stack the odds in our favour."

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