Alzheimer’s and other dementias are complex diseases. We are making considerable progress in understanding how they develop and it’s clear that they don’t have one single cause. It is likely that a mixture of our age, genes and lifestyle could contribute to our risk of dementia. This section aims to outline some of the risk factors for dementia and how we may be able to reduce our risk.

The risk of developing most dementias increases with age. That means as we get older, we are more likely to develop dementia. About two in 100 people aged 65 to 69 have dementia, but this figure rises to one in five for those aged 85 to 89.

Dementia is not a normal part of getting older or an acceleration of ageing. It is caused by different diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s.

We can’t change our age and there is currently no way we can completely prevent dementia but there may be some simple things we can all do that might help lower our risk.

A risk factor is anything that can increase your likelihood of developing dementia. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke) are also risk factors for all dementia. So it’s a good idea to keep healthy by:
•not smoking
•controlling high blood pressure
•reducing your cholesterol level
•controlling your blood glucose if you have diabetes
•exercising regularly
•achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
•eating a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and low amounts of saturated fat
•only drinking alcohol within the recommended limits.

Some studies suggest that enjoying an active life, with lots of interests and hobbies might be beneficial. Other researchers have found that spending more time in education is associated with a lower risk.

There is currently not enough evidence to suggest that omega-3 fish oil or vitamin supplements could reduce the risk of dementia. It is not advised to take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen), HRT (hormone replacement therapy) or statins to protect against dementia, as research is continuing in this area. You should talk to your doctor before taking any supplements or drugs that claim to prevent dementia, as most are unproven and they can have serious side effects.

You might read or hear about other risk factors for dementia. Despite occasional publicity, research has shown that eating meat, exposure to aluminium or living close to power lines are not risk factors for dementia. There is also no evidence that turmeric, ginkgo, ginseng or coffee can protect against dementia.

Dementia becomes more common as people get older, so many of us will have a relative living with the condition – but this does not mean we will inherit it. Most of the time the genes we inherit from our parents will only have a small effect on our risk of dementia. In rare cases, someone may inherit a faulty gene that causes a specific form of dementia . Some rare forms of early-onset Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia are caused by faulty genes and can run in families. Symptoms of these often start in an individual’s 30s, 40s or 50s. Here is a video made by Alzheimer’s Research UK: