Can dementia be prevented?
Some things do show some promise.
Having risk factors for cardiovascular disease can increase your risk of developing all types of dementia. These risk factors include:
- Raised cholesterol levels.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Not doing enough physical activity.
- Being overweight.
- Having diabetes or high blood pressure.
Therefore, it would seem likely that doing something to modify these risk factors may reduce your risk of developing dementia. Stopping smoking, reducing excessive alcohol, and losing weight if you are overweight, for example, may all help to reduce your risk of dementia. Regular physical exercise is advised for all sorts of health benefits, including reducing the risk of dementia. One UK study suggested that a fifth of cases of Alzheimer's disease might have been related to lack of physical activity, and proposed that regular exercise might have actually prevented some of these cases.
Keeping your brain active may also help to reduce your risk of developing dementia. So, for example, consider reading books, doing puzzles, learning a foreign language, playing a musical instrument, taking up a new hobby, etc.
Many studies are going on to look into treatments which may help to prevent dementia. These include certain blood pressure medicines, omega-3 fatty acids, and brain training exercises, as well as the strategies discussed above. However, there is not yet convincing evidence available for any of these.
Further research is ongoing to try to find other ways of preventing dementia.
Further reading and references
Dementia; NICE CKS, August 2016 (UK access only)
Dementia Fact Sheet; World Health Organization (WHO), April 2016
Donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine and memantine for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease; NICE Technology Appraisal Guidance, March 2011
Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of Alzheimer's disease; European Federation of Neurological Societies (2010)
Robinson L, Tang E, Taylor JP; Dementia: timely diagnosis and early intervention. BMJ. 2015 Jun 16350:h3029. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h3029.
Dementia: Supporting people with dementia and their carers in health and social care; NICE Clinical Guideline (November 2006, last updated September 2016)
Dementia, disability and frailty in later life – mid-life approaches to delay or prevent onset; NICE Guidelines (October 2015)
Health matters: midlife approaches to reduce dementia risk; Public Health England Guidance, March 2016
Laver K, Dyer S, Whitehead C, et al; Interventions to delay functional decline in people with dementia: a systematic review of systematic reviews. BMJ Open. 2016 Apr 276(4):e010767. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010767.
Howard R, McShane R, Lindesay J, et al; Donepezil and memantine for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's disease. N Engl J Med. 2012 Mar 8366(10):893-903. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1106668.
Brechin D et al; Alternatives to antipsychotic medication: Psychological approaches in managing psychological and behavioural distress in people with dementia, The British Psychological Society, March 2013
Living with dementia - Planning ahead; Alzheimer's Society
Dementia; NICE Quality Standard, June 2010
Dementia: independence and wellbeing; NICE Quality Standard, April 2013
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