Taking regular exercise, eating healthily, keeping your brain active, reducing alcohol intake, giving up smoking and booking frequent check-ups with your family doctor can preserve mental function into old age, say experts.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It is key we all remember these golden rules and make them part of day-to-day life.
“Although there are factors we can’t change, such as age and genetics, there are also a few simple changes we can all make to help reduce our risk of dementia.”
Dementia has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death.
The incurable condition claimed the lives of almost 63,000 people in 2016, affecting almost twice as many women as men.
Exercise and frequent check-ups can preserve mental function into old age
Scientists hope to develop a treatment by 2025 but growing evidence suggests the way in which we live can have a significant impact on brain health in old age.
Regular exercise that leaves you slightly breathless has been shown to be good for the heart, circulation, weight and mental wellbeing.
Aerobic activities such as walking and cycling are best but gardening or housework helps as long as it is for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.
Research also shows that eating well is one of the best ways to protect mental function and stave off the onset of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.
Loading up on five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eating fish rich in omega-3 at least twice a week and diets rich in unrefined cereals and olive oil can give the brain a powerful boost.
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Scientists also recommend limiting alcohol to 14 units a week – equivalent to seven pints of beer or seven 175ml glasses of wine.
Smokers are at much higher risk of developing dementia in addition to cancer and stroke, say researchers.
Meanwhile, regular mental stimulation by tackling puzzles, crosswords and quizzes can make the brain better equipped to cope with the condition.
Finally, regular check-ups are important and everyone aged between 40 and 74 is entitled to a free NHS health check.
Ageing remains the biggest risk factor for dementia but the risk drops markedly if these six golden rules are followed.
A healthy diet can cut the risk of developing dementia
Maria Carillo, chief science officer at Alzheimer’s Association, said: “At an individual level many people have the potential to reduce their risk of cognitive decline through simple, healthful behaviour changes.”
There are about a dozen drugs in late-stage trials which are designed to reduce the build-up of toxic amyloid plaques in the brain.
If results prove successful it could revolutionise the way Alzheimer’s is treated, experts say.
Professor John Hardy, of the Institute of Neurology at University College London, said: “I am optimistic of finding a disease-modifying treatment by 2025.
“A cure, no – but disease-modifying? Yes, I think that is realistic.”
Dementia claimed the lives of almost 63,000 people in 2016
Dementia accounted for 62,948 deaths in 2016 – 12 per cent of all fatalities in England and Wales.
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics shows it killed 41,747 women and 21,201 men.
It was the leading cause of death for both men and women aged 80 and over and is caused by changes in nerve cells in the brain, which lead to a breakdown in mental function.
Telltale symptoms include memory loss, confused thinking and difficulties with speech.
Across the UK there are now 850,000 people living with dementia.
Better diagnosis and an ageing population are blamed for the increase in recorded deaths.