Dementia is a condition that affects 50 million people worldwide, and recent figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that around 82 million people will develop dementia by 2030 and 152 million by 2050.
As a condition that's growing more common each year, preventing dementia continues to be a priority worldwide.
However, there are claims about how to prevent the condition. Some are medically validated but many are not, and this can make it difficult for the average person to know what really works for preventing the condition.
To help, the WHO has released its first ever guidelines on the lifestyle changes you can make to try and reduce your risk of getting dementia.
The guidelines focus on lifestyle changes, because while age is the strongest known risk factor for the condition, dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Research suggests that your lifestyle plays a role in your chance of getting dementia as you grow older.
Factors such as not getting enough exercise, smoking, eating an unhealthy diet and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may increase your risk of the condition. Being socially isolated and not mentally stimulated are also thought to increase the risk of dementia.
What can you do to reduce your risk?
Speaking about the new guidelines, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart is also good for our brain.”
Indeed, the majority of the 10 recommended lifestyle changes echo the advice commonly given for preventing cardiovascular disease.
The 10 recommendations are:
1. Get more exercise
You should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. You can break this into chunks of at least 10 minutes of exercise at a time. You should also aim to do muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
Check with your doctor that it's safe for you to exercise at the recommended level before you embark on an exercise programme.
2. Stop smoking
This includes using all types of tobacco and vaping. You can speak with your doctor for advice on smoking treatments that can help you to quit.
3. Eat a healthy balanced diet
A healthy balanced diet that's high in fresh fruit and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help to reduce your risk of dementia.
4. Avoid drinking too much
Do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis. Spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week.
5. Train your brain
Brain training activities like certain computer games, and mentally-stimulating tasks such as crosswords or puzzles can help to reduce your risk of developing dementia.
6. Be as social as possible
There's not enough evidence to prove that being social can reduce your risk of dementia, but the guidelines include this recommendation because social activity is linked to good general health and wellbeing.
7. Maintain a healthy weight
If you're overweight or obese, try to lose weight safely by eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise.
8. Treat high blood pressure
For people with high blood pressure, keeping your blood pressure under control is important for lowering your risk of dementia.
9. Manage diabetes well
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, take care to follow your treatment plan closely and maintain good control of your blood sugar levels.
10. Treat high blood cholesterol levels
People with high blood cholesterol levels should manage their cholesterol levels. This can be achieved by making changes to your lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, as well as taking medicines.
Missing from the list
The guidelines state that while depression and hearing loss are sometimes thought to increase the risk of dementia, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this belief. However, it's important to see your doctor if you have or suspect you have depression or hearing loss. They will be able to offer you the support you need to manage these conditions and improve your overall quality of life.