A new brain health checker shows people how they can take 12 steps to reduce their risk of getting dementia.
Alzheimer’s Research UK believes the vast majority of people are not doing enough to ward off dementia in later life.
Dementia is the “most feared consequence of ageing”, said the charity. It said it wanted to empower people to make choices to help reduce their odds of developing it.
About 40 per cent of cases are thought to be linked to lifestyle factors, which can be modified to reduce the risk.
Academics have also called for brain health to be included as part of the National Health Service's mid-life test, also known as the NHS Health Check.
A survey conducted on behalf of the charity found that just 2 per cent of adults are doing their utmost to help their brains stay healthy.
This includes looking after their hearing, daily challenges to keep the brain active, socialising, keeping fit and eating a healthy diet.
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The charity has developed a new tool to help people examine lifestyle factors they could change to reduce their risk. These are:
– Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night
– Regularly challenging the brain
– Looking after mental well-being
– Staying socially active
– Looking after your hearing
– Eating a balanced diet
– Staying physically active
– Quitting smoking
– Drinking responsibly
– Keeping a healthy level of cholesterol
– Maintaining healthy blood pressure
– Managing diabetes as well as possible
Meanwhile, another study has also shown that continuing education in younger life, avoiding traumatic head injury and reducing exposure to air pollution can also help to reduce the risk of dementia.
The survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charity, found that people are falling short in the steps they can take to reduce their risk.
The poll of 2,200 UK adults found that 35 per cent of people said they have had concerns about their hearing, but more than half of those (59 per cent) reported that they have not done anything about it.
Previous studies have found that people with hearing loss had a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment compared to people who do not deal with the problems.
The survey also found that only 31 per cent of adults said they had at least seven hours of quality sleep each night.
Just over a quarter (27 per cent) said they did activities to challenge their brain every day and only 30 per cent said they met physical activity guidelines each week.
But most people polled said that they spoke to or meet friends, family or colleagues several times each week and most said they had recently had their blood pressure checked.
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People of any age are encouraged to use the new Think Brain Health Check-In tool, although it is primarily aimed at people in their 40s and 50s.
Prof Jonathan Schott, chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that only 30 per cent of people knew there was something that they could do to reduce their risks
“There are some people who are [genetically] destined to develop dementia, but we know now that up to 40 per cent of worldwide dementia risk is potentially modifiable,” Prof Schott said.
“And we now are developing a rational evidence base of at least 12 modifiable and potentially modifiable risk factors.
“It’s vital that we do all that we can, as individuals and society, to reduce our risk.
“I think that it’s empowering to individuals to know that there are some things that they can do.”
Prof Paul Matthews, director at UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial College London, said: “Now there is fairly solid scientific evidence that there’s an association between wine being consumed at any level and smaller brain volumes.
“One view is: ‘If I have any increased risk, I want to stop it and it’s easy for me to give up my glass or two of red wine in the evening’.
“Another is: ‘These [drinks] are what give my life pleasure, help me socialise, help me interact with other people, and therefore the loss would be a high cost to me and even if there is a possible small increased risk of dementia, I’m going to take it with wine and do other things to reduce my risk’.
“We need to give people the knowledge to make these choices.”
Dr Charles Marshall, clinical senior lecturer in dementia at Queen Mary University of London, called for brain health to be included in the NHS check.
“I think what we need to do is think about combining a sort of education approach where we teach people about what they can do to keep their brains healthy, with also improved early detection and diagnosis so that we can give people personalised interventions as early as possible,” Dr Marshall said.
“One example of this might be an updated NHS health check that includes a major brain health focus that can identify when people have these risk factors, but also something where we can identify early warning signs of dementia.”
The Alzheimer’s Research UK tool, Think Brain Health Check-In, can be found at https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/brain-health/check-in/