Dementia: Ten ways to stay mentally active to ‘prevent’ dementia – ‘Good for the brain’

Dr Zoe says walking can reduce risk of dementia

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One in 14 people over the age of 65 have dementia, and the condition affects one in six people over 80. There are more than 100 types of dementia and many of the symptoms overlap so it can be hard to identify the specific form of brain decline one has. Risks involve getting older, genes, injury, health and lifestyle.

The Alzheimer’s Society advises people to stay mentally and socially active, as “engaging in mental or social activities may help to build up your brain’s ability to cope with disease, relieve stress and improve your mood”.

“This means doing these activities may help to delay, or even prevent, dementia from developing,” it explains.

It adds: “Anything that engages your mind, processes information and develops your thinking skills is good for the brain and reduces your risk.”

The charity outlines ten ideas. For example:

  • Any kind of adult education or learning
  • Arts and crafts (especially in groups)
  • Playing a musical instrument or singing
  • Volunteering
  • Doing ‘brainteasers’, such as puzzles, crosswords or quizzes
  • Playing card games, chess or board games
  • Reading books, or becoming a member of a book club
  • Creative writing or keeping a diary
  • Learning a new language.

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The charity says: “Social activities are also good for the brain, making them a great way to reduce your risk of getting dementia. This includes interacting with other people online as well as in person.

“This means it’s important to try to keep in touch with the people who matter to you, such as friends and family.”

Indeed, having a conversation with someone can also exercise a wide range of your mental skills.

The charity advises as you get older, you are more likely to develop certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. These conditions can increase the risk of getting dementia.

Therefore, it is important to get checked for these conditions.

If you live in England your GP may invite you to an NHS Health Check, or you can book an appointment by contacting them.

It says: “This NHS Health Check is available to anyone aged 40 to 74 who lives in England and does not already have diabetes, heart, kidney or circulation problems.

“It is designed to find any early signs of these conditions and stop them getting worse. Ideally, you should have this check-up every five years.”

There’s also some evidence that a heart-healthy diet could reduce your risk of developing dementia.

“Having heart or circulatory disease can raise your risk of dementia, so it makes sense to look after both your heart and your brain,” explains the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was created by researchers at Rush University in Chicago, to help prevent dementia and slow age-related loss of brain function.

It’s a combination of two diets already known to reduce risk of heart and circulatory disease:
The Mediterranean diet (based on wholegrains, fish, pulses, fruits and vegetables and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

Although there is no cure for dementia at the moment, an early diagnosis means its progress can be slowed down in some cases, so the person may be able to maintain their mental function for longer, says the NHS.

As well as personality changes and memory loss, other people may experience difficulty concentrating or find it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks.

Some people may find that they are struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word or being confused about time and place.

Research shows there are more than 850,000 people in the UK who have dementia.

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