Active dementia prevention

eldery with bike helmet in front of a tree (Rainer Sturm/
Sport against dementia. (Rainer Sturm/

The society is getting older and therefore increases the number of people who suffer from dementia. A cure or a preventive drug still has not been found. However, there are ways of life that help to prevent or delay disability due to dementia.

Forgetting a name once or missing an appointment has nothing to do with dementia. Actually, it is normal that the memory decreases with age, and we become forgetful. Nevertheless, it is clear that with the aging of our society, the number of people who suffer from dementia also increases.

Reducing the risk

No one can completely protect against dementia and disability. As with other diseases of aging, however, each person can also take measurements of prevention, keeping the risk of dementia as low as possible.

Basically, it is about reducing the risk factors by health-promoting lifestyle changes. The Alzheimer's Association has identified three areas of dementia prevention:

  • Nutrition
  • Mental and physical activity
  • Social Life
healthy meal with fish, pasta and vegetables (Benjamin Thorn/
Experts recommend as dementia prevention to eat more fish and less red meat. (Benjamin Thorn/

The dietary habits in western society today support a variety of diseases and disabilities. Of course there are many people who eat healthy but basically we have too many too fatty, sweet and savoury dishes. We consume too many calories and nourish unbalanced.

Scientists assume that a cardiac and vascular friendly, and above all well-balanced, diet does not only counteract cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or cancer but also reduces the risk of dementia.

The Mediterranean cuisine can be considered as an example of a healthy diet. It contains lots of vegetables and fruits but also legumes and cereals, more fish than in our latitudes but less red meat and poultry.

Several studies also indicate that a sufficient supply of the vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid lowers the homocysteine level. This works against reduction of brain mass in old age and therefore against dementia.

"One drink can do no harm" is true. There is nothing wrong with a sip every now and then. Harmful, however, is the excessive consumption of alcohol ... and tobacco.

Activity against disease and disability

Also in terms of physical activity, our everyday life has changed; we are less and less active. But it would be so important to have enough, especially regular exercise. Exercise and sport rather than a passive lifestyle reduces the risk of dementia as well.

An everyday example of prevention is to take the stairs instead of the elevator or the bike instead of the car.

chess board (Didi01/
Chess challenges the mind and keeps it active. (Didi01/

With an active mind against dementia

Just like the body, the mind should also be activated. The more work the brain has, the more it is demanded, the more active it remains - even in old age. This "brain jogging" against dementia can be done in various ways. The focus of prevention is, however, that work should be done actively. This involves reading a challenging book, play chess, learning a foreign language or an instrument.

It does not include passive leisure times like watching a movie or listening to an audio book. Memory training can also be done in very modern style, for example, with mind games on the Internet or other games. This can be done anytime, anywhere on your phone or a tablet computer.

Communication in the centre

In the centre of dementia prevention, there is also social life. Secluded, insulated people and people with disabilities have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia than people with an active social life. The social contact, exchange of ideas, conversations, communication par excellence; this helps to keep the brain stimulated in many different ways.

It is therefore important to keep in touch with friends and family and to meet other people. A good opportunity is to join a club or get involved in volunteering.

All of these health-promoting measures are not a guarantee for not suffering from dementia one day. The risk factors, however, are reduced evidently with different types of prevention.

Text: Patrick Gunti - 03/2012
Translation: MPL - 06/2012