World Alzheimer’s Day: 5 things that can reduce your risk of developing the disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating, complex and ultimately fatal disease, which can be terrifying for the people it affects and heartbreaking for those who love them, but it’s not always fully understood.

It is the most common form of dementia – mostly known for the effect it has on someone’s cognitive and functional abilities.

Bupa’s global director of dementia care, Professor Graham Stokes, says: “Given its prevalence, people often ask me whether they’ll develop it because their relatives have the disease. The good news is that Alzheimer’s isn’t hereditary – just because it’s in your family, it doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily develop it too.”

While it mainly affects older people, there are still things you can do to help lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Here’s what Graham recommends:

1. Stop smoking

A smoker (Jonathan Brady/PA)
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

Few people need to be told that smoking’s bad for their health, but it’s less widely known that the habit increases their chances of developing Alzheimer’s. That’s because smoking is linked with cardiovascular problems which can contribute to the disease.

Cutting out smoking won’t just reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s – it could stop you getting a whole host of other illnesses too.

2. Eat well

Again, this is key to maintaining a healthy heart, which in turn reduces your chances of Alzheimer’s. Some studies have suggested that a Mediterranean diet (plant-based with seafood, whole grains, nuts and olive oil) can have a positive impact, but any balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will reduce your chances.

3. Stay in formal education

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This one often surprises people, but studies have shown there’s a clear link between the length of time a person spends in formal education and their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The longer we spend in education when we’re younger, the less likely we are to develop the disease.

There’s also research to suggest that learning a new language or starting a short course in adult years may protect against the risk of getting dementia.

At present though, there’s less solid evidence around the impact of brain training games, like Sudoku or puzzles.

4. Keep active and find hobbies

Exercise is a great all-rounder for lowering your chances of Alzheimer’s. On the one hand, it helps keep a healthy heart, but additional research has shown that participating in different activities and hobbies can lower your risk.

Group activities like tennis, bowling or joining a walking group will not only keep you physically healthy, but can also improve your social wellbeing, which again appears to reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s.

5. Manage any existing health conditions

Conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure can have a significant impact on cardiovascular health, therefore increasing your chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

It’s also vital to recognise the warning signs of Alzheimer’s – getting muddled and forgetting names and dates, and becoming distracted or showing unusual behaviour, like angry outbursts. While there’s currently no cure for the condition, there are things we can do to assist people with the condition and reduce the impact.

 

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