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Reducing Your Risk of Dementia

Reducing your risk of dementia

Find out more about steps you can take to reduce your risk of dementia

Currently, there is no cure for dementia, and it cannot be entirely prevented. Some things that increase your risk, like age or genetics, can’t be changed, but there are steps you can take to improve your general health and lower your dementia risk.

Many of the risk factors for dementia are also risk factors for other medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke. By eliminating some of these factors, you can improve your overall health while also lowering your dementia risk.

Download your copy of Reducing Your Risk of Dementia

Stopping Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and
dementia. You can reduce your risk of dementia if you are able to
stop smoking or reduce the amount you smoke. Smoking is thought to increase your risk of dementia because:

  • it is very harmful to your heart and blood vessels and what is bad for the heart and circulation is also bad for the brain
  • damaged blood vessels can lead to stroke and coronary heart disease, which increase your risk of dementia
  • smoking can contribute to the build-up of fatty substances in the blood vessels, causing narrowing of the blood vessels supplying the heart and brain; this stops enough oxygen getting to your brain cells, so they become damaged
  • smoking makes your blood much more likely to clot which increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke
  • smoking damages brain cells.

Research suggests that after several years of not smoking, the risk of dementia in former smokers is close to that of people who never smoked.

Support to Stop Smoking

If you want to stop smoking, reach out to your GP for advice, talk to your pharmacist or contact Quit Your Way. Quit Your Way advisers give free advice about how to stop smoking and can help you to come up with a plan that’s right for you. Call freephone 0800 84 84 84 or use their webchat at www.nhsinform.scot/campaigns/quit-your-way-scotland.

Quitting or Moderating Alcohol

People who drink heavily or binge-drink are more likely to develop dementia than those who drink moderately. Very heavy, long-term drinking can cause alcohol-related dementia, and excessive alcohol consumption can cause brain damage that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. 

The best advice is to follow the NHS guidelines. These suggest that both men and women should limit their alcohol intake to 14 units a week and no more than 2-3 units in a day. In general, it is fine to drink the occasional glass of wine or beer, but try to stay within the NHS guidelines and have at least 2 or 3 alcohol free days a week.

As you get older, your body is less able to process alcohol, so even drinking slightly more than the recommended limits can have an impact on your health. If you want to drink less, talk to your GP, who can offer you help and support. Alternatively, contact one of these specialist services:

Help With Alcohol

We Are With You (formerly Addaction) provides free, confidential support with alcohol or drugs via a local service or online. Webchat is available through their website www.wearewithyou.org.uk/help-and-advice/ or you can chat to someone on 0800 915 4624. Alcoholics Anonymous provides free self-help groups across Scotland. Its 12-step programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups. Call 0800 917 7650 or visit https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/

Staying Active

Physical activity lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. It's good for your mental health and may improve your thinking and memory, which can lower the risk of developing dementia. A fifth of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide are estimated to be due to lack of physical activity.

Taking part in physical activity is also a great way to get out and about and meet new people. Time spent with other people may reduce loneliness and isolation, which could be risk factors for memory and thinking problems.

If you want to be more active, find an activity you enjoy so you will be more likely to stick to it. Keeping fit doesn't have to be difficult - just making simple changes to your routine can make a big difference. You could:

  • walk up the stairs instead of using lifts or escalators
  • get off the bus a couple of stops early
  • when walking, choose a longer or more hilly route
  • park further away from shops and walk the extra distance
  • stand up whilst talking on the phone.

Older adults who safely can, should aim to be active daily. The recommended level is 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity, like jogging, running, tennis or aerobics.

When sitting still, try to take regular breaks for gentle activity (walking slowly or doing light chores like dusting or gardening).

If you have limited mobility, you can benefit from activities that improve balance and co-ordination. Examples include yoga, pilates, tai chi and seated exercises like stretches. If you use a wheelchair, some light seated exercises are a great way to break up long periods of sitting still.

More Information

For more information about staying active, see our guide to Health and Wellbeing in Later Life.

Eating Well

People who eat a Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk of developing memory and thinking problems. A Mediterranean diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables and starchy foods like bread and pasta, along with some fish and less meat. In general, it is better for you to eat fewer foods that are high in saturated fat, such as processed meats, butter and cakes and instead eat foods containing unsaturated fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Ready meals and sauces are often high in added sugar, so try to limit how much you use these if you can.

Making Changes

For advice about eating healthily, see Age Scotland’s Eat Well guide or talk to your GP.

Dementia resources

Find out more about Age Scotland's work and services to support people affected by dementia.

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