5 ways to help stave off dementia

For many years dementia has been the poor relation of health care. It has long been ignored or even accepted as a 'normal' part of ageing, but times are changing.

There are currently 850,000 people in the UK suffering with dementia. The emotional, physical and financial costs, both to patients and to their families, are enormous. Dementia is also massively costly to our health and social care system. It is thought that the total current cost of dementia to the country is in the region of £26 billion. This is higher than the costs of cancer care,heart disease or strokes.

Dementia is a complex area, and there are many different types of the disease. Alzheimer's is probably the most well known type, but vascular dementia (which is caused by multiple small strokes) is also common. Dementia doesn't only affect the elderly. There are rarer types of dementia which affect people at much younger ages, and some types of dementia are known to be genetic or run in families.

Increasing research is being carried out into dementia and we are probably only at the very frontier of our knowledge regarding this cruel and distressing disease. The good news is that there are simple things that are already known to lower your risks of developing dementia. Stick to these simple measures and you could reduce your chance of developing dementia by a third:

1. Stop smoking

Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for dementia. It is well known that smoking narrows vessels around the heart, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. The same effects are seen in the brain, leading to stress and damage of brain cells.

2. Do more exercise

Up to 20% of cases of Alzheimer's are thought to be directly linked to a sedentary lifestyle. Current government advice is to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week. This level of activity can readily be incorporated into your daily life, so have a think about how you can become more active.

3. Eating healthily

Eating a healthy diet including good volumes of fruit and vegetables can help reduce your risk of dementia too. Not only will this help you to maintain a healthy weight, but also reduce your chances of developing other conditions (such astype 2 diabetes,high blood pressure or strokes) which are independent risk factors for dementia.

4. Keep your grey cells busy

Mental activity has a hugely beneficial effect on your brain. Keeping yourself mentally stimulated in your older years can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 40%. Dig out an old puzzle, try your hand at Sudoku or learn a new language…it all helps.

5. Be social

Having regular social contact after retirement also protects against potential dementia. Social interaction is known to reduce the risks ofdepression and stress, which are thought to be related to developing dementia.

Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.