My View, Dr Nick Tupper: What you can do to ward off dementia

Smoking increases the risk of dementia
Smoking increases the risk of dementia

Last week the top clinician responsible for dementia care in England came on a visit to Doncaster and gave us a ‘thumbs-up’ for what we’re doing to manage the disease.

Prof Alistair Burns saw the good work taking place across the hospital and community services we commission for those who have dementia and how awareness of the disease is being raised across the wider population.

During his stay, Prof Burns – the NHS’s national clinical director for dementia – told us dementia is now the most feared disease amongst older people. Two-thirds of people over 50 are scared of developing dementia. Just one in 10 are frightened of getting cancer.

Two thirds say they are living well with dementia but evidence suggests 10 per cent leave their home just once a month or less. We still have a lot to do.

One of my GP colleagues asked Prof Burns how to prevent the disease and he said, “What’s good for your heart is good for your head”, which is excellent advice.

Keeping physically active is important for brain health as well as heart health. Regular exercise in middle-aged or older adults can improve thinking and memory, and cut the risk of developing dementia. Here are tips from the Alzheimer’s Association for you to follow.

* Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five times each week, Work hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.

* High blood pressure in mid-life increases the likelihood of developing dementia in later life. If you are over 40 you should get your blood pressure checked regularly.

* Don’t smoke. Smokers have a 50 per cent greater chance of developing dementia than those who have never smoked, but this risk can be significantly reduced by quitting the habit.

* Have a healthy, balanced diet to maintain a normal body weight as this will cut your likelihood of developing high blood pressure or heart disease. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet may help to reduce the risk.

* Research suggests people who take part in mentally stimulating activities – such as reading, learning and doing puzzles – are less likely to develop dementia. It’s thought mental activity increases the brain’s ability to cope with, and compensate for, physical damage.

* Drinking light amounts of alcohol may protect against dementia and keep your heart healthy. Men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day and women should not regularly drink more than two to three.