Ask anyone on the street and they will likely tell you that dementia is a ‘normal’ part of ageing.

A 2019 survey of 70,000 people by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) found two-thirds of respondents thought that dementia was an inevitable part of getting older. Almost all of those surveyed – 95% – thought they would themselves develop dementia in later life.

But while the prevalence of dementia – or the number of people living with dementia – around the world is still increasing, the incidence of dementia – so the number of new cases every year per thousand – is actually declining.

Research has found that improvements in health are making a real difference to new dementia cases.

A longitudinal study of people aged over 65 in England and Wales completed in the mid-1990s which determined there were 183,000 new cases in the UK every year.

The research team forecast that this would increase to 251,000 cases in 20 years’ time – but when they returned to evaluate the numbers in 2015, new cases were still sitting at 210,000.

Their conclusion? A reduction in smoking in men – interestingly, not women – and an improvement in people’s cardiovascular health had reduced the incidence of dementia.

“Brain health is improving significantly in the UK across generations, particularly among men … the so-called dementia tsunami is not inevitable,” said study author, Professor Carol Brayne.

Another report published in The Lancet in 2020 concluded that there were 12 modifiable risk factors – or lifestyle choices – which accounted for around 40% of global dementia cases, which could potentially be prevented or delayed. They are:

  • less education
  • hypertension
  • hearing impairment
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • depression
  • physical inactivity
  • diabetes
  • low social contact
  • excessive alcohol consumption >21 units a week
  • traumatic brain injury
  • air pollution.

What does this mean?

The good news is that we can all take steps to minimise our risk of dementia.

By tackling the 12 risk factors listed above – and engaging in activities that have a positive impact on our brain health such as exercise and social activities – we can modify our risk.

Dementia is not inevitable – and you can take action now.