Keep your marbles & reduce your dementia risk

Some of you have been asking me about dementia so I have invited Nicola Gates, an expert in dementia prevention, to write an article about reducing the risk of dementia.

If you wish to explore interventions for yourself, or more likely your older family members, you will find her contact details below.

Keep your marbles and reduce your dementia risk


Lifestyle factors significantly contribute to risk of dementia.

A healthy brain weighs 1.3 kg. With dementia and degenerative disease it shrinks to half its usual size – and hence it stops working properly. People get forgetful, have trouble finding words, lose things, can’t make decisions or solve problems, and continue to deteriorate.

But only 5% of people over 65 years get dementia, and only 20% of people over 80 years get dementia, meaning 80% don’t.

You can invest in your health by changing your lifestyle, thereby considerably reducing your risk of developing dementia (now termed neurocognitive disease) whilst developing brain reserves and building resistance.

Two steps: Reduce your risk & build your brain

Research identifies 7 lifestyle factors that contribute a whopping 55% risk to getting dementia. What we do in our mid years is really important.

1. Reduce your risk

From largest to smallest the risk contributors are:

  • Low cognitive activity
  • Smoking
  • Low physical exercise
  • Depression /stress
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Neuroscience research, including my own at UNSW Medicine, consistently indicates that you can increase your brain reserve thereby making it more resilient to disease, through the process of neuroplasticity building more brain connections and new brain cells.

2. Build your brain bank

  • Follow the Mediterranean diet
  • Reduce stress
  • Address depression and mental health issues
  • Stop smoking and drink no more than 14 standard drinks per week
  • Exercise for at least 30 mins per day
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Manage blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Remain curious and pursue mentally challenging hobbies/activities

Knowledge is only the beginning

Changing lifelong habits and making behaviour change is difficult, effortful and sometimes a long process. It takes your time, commitment, professional advice and support for the best individual program.

Contributed by: Dr Nicola Gates
[email protected]
Brain and Mind Psychology,
Conjoint Lecturer Centre for Healthy Brain Aging UNSW Medicine


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