Report Addresses 12 Possible Risk Factors

Dementia — including Alzheimer’s disease — affects about 50 million people worldwide and is a major cause of disability and loss of independence in older people. Though we still have a lot to learn about dementia, some possible risk factors have been identified — and a recently issued report from the World Health Organization (WHO) offers advice on how to lower risk by addressing 12 of these risk factors.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes dementia, and there’s currently no cure. The World Health Organization guidelines evaluate 12 possible risk factors and acknowledge that the evidence for some of them may not be strong but taking steps to reduce them won’t hurt you. In fact, many of their recommendations are also good for your heart and general health.

The guidelines are designed for health care providers worldwide and for public health officials and other professionals A summary of their recommendations includes:

Stay active. There’s some evidence that inadequate physical activity may increase dementia risk.

Don’t use tobacco. Talk to your doctor about quitting and tobacco cessation products that can help.

Eat mostly plant-based foods. A Mediterranean-like diet — full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive and canola oil along with sensible servings of lean protein — may reduce your risk for dementia and other health problems.

Limit alcohol. Too much may increase your risk or speed cognitive decline. The WHO guidelines don’t specify limits, but most experts recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

Manage your weight. Some evidence suggests that overweight or obesity may increase your risk for dementia.

Watch your cholesterol. By reducing your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and increasing your “good” (HDL) cholesterol, you may be helping to reduce your risk of dementia as well as improving your heart health.

Manage diabetes. If you have diabetes, keeping it well controlled can help prevent a wide range of health problems — and possibly dementia.

Manage high blood pressure. Hypertension contributes to many health problems, and may increase your dementia risk, though the evidence is not yet strong.

Train your brain. Cognitive training, including some games and other activities, shows some evidence it may help prevent cognitive decline.

The WHO found insufficient evidence to recommend antidepressants, treating hearing loss or an active social life for reducing dementia risk — but they stress that treating depression or hearing loss and staying socially active all have health benefits of their own.

Download the full report from the WHO website.

If you’re concerned about dementia talk with your doctor. They can help you identify any modifiable risk factors and possibly lower risk.