Dementia is largely avoidable: six of the seven main risk factors can be improved by changes in behaviour. But a new study by Alzheimers Research UK shows that many people believe the only way to avoid dementia would be to not get old!
In fact there’s plenty of scientific research into how the risk of dementia can be reduced. The seven big factors that increase the risk are heavy drinking, smoking, a family history of dementia, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and lack of exercise.
Out of these seven factors, your family history (genetics) is the only one you can’t do anything about. We can’t go back and choose a different set of parents!
High blood pressure can generally be controlled, often without even needing medication. Changing lifestyle can achieve a lot. And even if you do need medication, it will only help if you take responsibility for your own health by at least remembering to take the pills.
Same goes for diabetes. I’ve worked a lot with diabetic patients. Their attitude to how they live with the condition is the biggest factor that determines how much or how little damage will occur to their body.
Heavy drinking, smoking, and an inactive lifestyle are all behaviours that anyone can change, especially with effective help. And depression is often connected to certain negative attitudes that persist in the background even when the person has recovered from the acute depression. These attitudes and habits of negative thinking can be changed just like any other habit.
So dementia is indeed avoidable for millions of people if they make changes now to reduce their risk. The sooner they begin these changes, the easier the change will be. Think of your mental and physical health as a house you’re building. You start from the foundations and build upwards from there. What you put into your body, and how you treat your body, these lifestyle behaviours are the foundation of good health.