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Can you decrease your risk of developing dementia?

12:00am | & Health

‘You’ll either get dementia or you won’t… it’s just the luck of the draw, right?’

Wrong. In fact, there’s a whole range of health and lifestyle factors which can increase your risk of developing dementia, but a survey commissioned by Public Health England found that just 2% of British people can identify all of them.

Even more worrying, more than a quarter of those surveyed (28%) could not identify any of the key risk factors for dementia. Instead there was a strong misconception that people are somehow “pre-programmed” to develop dementia or avoid it, and there was nothing anyone could do to change it.

In fact, there’s growing evidence that as many as a third of dementia cases could be a result of factors potentially within our control, and actions like not smoking and taking regular exercise can reduce our chances of developing dementia. This means there’s a huge potential for prevention.

Carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), the British Social Attitudes survey asked members of the public if they could identify the following risk factors linked with developing dementia:

  • Heavy drinking
  • Smoking
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

Just 2% of those surveyed could identify all of them. More worryingly, when asked to rate the statement that “there is nothing anyone can do to reduce their risks of getting dementia”, 27% said that they agreed and a further 26% said they neither agreed nor disagreed. Less than half (43%) correctly disagreed with the statement.

The results also showed that older people were more likely to incorrectly agree with the statement. A third of respondents over 65 thought there was nothing anyone could do to reduce their risk of dementia, compared to 26% of those under 65.

Susan Reid, Research director at NatCen, said: “These results draw attention to the high levels of uncertainty among the public regarding dementia risk factors. Whilst most people are able to recognise dementia symptoms, many believe there’s nothing anyone can do to reduce their risk. But this isn’t the case.”

Dr Charles Alessi, Senior Dementia Advisor at Public Health England, added: “Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing.

“What’s good for the heart is good for the brain and simple steps like giving up smoking, reducing alcohol intake, losing weight and taking regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing dementia in the future. In the absence of a cure for dementia, prevention is the best means we have to reduce its impact on the public.”

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