Through research, we’ve learnt a lot about the things that increase our likelihood of developing dementia.
Some of these, like our age and genetics, we can’t change.
But the latest evidence suggests that up to 40% of all cases of dementia are linked to factors we may be able to influence ourselves – some of them through relatively simple changes to the way we live.
As with any change, it’s much more likely to stick if we’re clear and realistic. Here are our three simple rules for looking after your brain:
Love your heart
What’s good for your heart is good for your brain!
You probably know that cutting out smoking, being physically active and eating a balanced diet will help lower your risk of heart disease – but very few people realise you’ll be helping reduce your risk of dementia too.
Giving your heart some love shouldn’t mean crash diets or running a marathon every weekend, but simple positive changes that you can build upon and that you enjoy.
The more you enjoy it, the more you’ll keep doing it – and the more your brain will thank you in the years ahead.
While education in early life has been shown to impact dementia risk decades later, there’s also evidence that regularly challenging your brain and taking time for your mental wellbeing can help protect it as you age.
In an important study, which followed 800 women over 44 years, scientists found that both physical and mental activity in midlife could help protect brain health in old age.
Researchers think that mental activity helps to build your ‘cognitive reserve’. This is your brain’s ability to cope and keep working, even in the face of damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s.
And the most effective mental workout out there?
The truth is, there isn’t enough evidence yet to suggest one specific activity that’s most helpful in building this resilience. So regularly doing things you enjoy – whether that’s reading, playing board games, learning a new language or something else entirely – is key. And variety is the spice of life!
Research points to social activity being the third piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping your brain healthy.
According to a report published by leading medical journal The Lancet in 2020, social isolation in later life could be a factor in around 4% of cases of dementia.
And we know that being socially active, whether that’s picking up the phone, meeting friends for a coffee, joining community groups, volunteering, or jumping onto Zoom for a catch-up can help us feel happier, healthier and more positive in general.
Several studies have suggested a link between hearing loss and dementia risk too, but it’s not yet clear why. Hearing loss could be a risk factor in itself, or it could increase the risk of dementia by making it harder for people to stay connected to the world around them.
Lots of people experience some degree of hearing loss as they get older though, so if you struggle with your hearing, why not speak to your doctor and get it checked.