Can dementia be prevented? The short answer is yes, according to Neuroscientist and Clinical Psychologist, Ian Robertson. He says that 35% of cases could be prevented if we eliminate the risks. The long answer is there are three stages of life to consider and different things to do at each stage. In early life, our level of education is the biggest predictor of whether or not we will suffer from the disease in later life.
“If we managed to get everyone educated to a good level, we would reduce dementia by about 8%.”
Education builds brain connections that the disease then has a harder time breaking down so encouraging kids to hit the books sets them up for good brain health later in life.
As we move on to middle age, things like hypertension and obesity become significant risk factors for dementia, but the biggest factor of all might come as a surprise.
“One we’ve tended to ignore is hearing loss. If we managed to correct hearing loss in older people, we’d reduce dementia by about 9%.”
In older life, the risk factors include smoking, depression and physical inactivity and Ian says retirement is a “moment of danger.”
“One of the great things that happen with retirement is there can be a sense of losing purpose in life… We need to be involved. You have to find purposeful activities… The loss of novelty and the loss of challenge, change and learning, all of these things actually deplete brain reserve so you have to be very careful when you retire that you don’t end up feeling in a domain where your brain is under-stimulated.”
Ian says it’s a triumph for brain health that the compulsory retirement age is increasing and jokes that a good pension can be a “dangerous thing” if it tempts us away from an active and engaged life!
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