According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. This will soar to 2 million by 2051. 225,000 will develop dementia this year alone – that’s one every three minutes. However these figures could be reduced by up to a third if people heed the warnings of recent medical evidence showing that certain lifestyle factors can be a major contributing factor. A significant 35% of cases of dementia are potentially modifiable.

The research, published by The Lancet  shows certain trends in those suffering with the disease that can not be contributed to age or family history. These trends were analysed by The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care (LCDPIC).  This long-titled commission is formed by experts in the field to consolidate current and emerging evidence on preventing and managing dementia. They conducted the biggest ever review of risk factors for Dementia and found that there were nine potential ways to help reduce your risk of developing the disease.

Some of the risks were fairly easy to avoid – for example the first risk factor mentioned was leaving education before the age of 15.  As it is now law that all children have to stay in education until 16 (and actually beyond unless they are in full time employment) this is unlikely to cause an issue for the younger generations – but not staying in secondary school, or indeed having no secondary education at all, was responsible for a scary 7.5% risk of developing dementia.

The second was hearing loss. Although the discovery of a relationship between hearing loss and the onset of dementia is fairly new, it is thought that losing your hearing could add stress to an already vulnerable brain and cause changes that could lead to dementia. With a 9.1% risk factor it is vital to deal effectively with any hearing loss issues and to regularly have your hearing checked if you are concerned. It is also possible that loss of hearing could accelerate a feeling of social isolation which can also be a contributing factor.

Lack of social interaction is a relatively low risk (2.3%) however it is important as it can stave off a number of other conditions with higher risk factors – for example hypertension, heart conditions and depression. So make sure you get out and about and keep as many friends as possible! Keeping the brain active and sociable is clearly quite an important way to stave off developing dementia. Exercise and physical activity are also responsible for 2.6% of the risk of dementia onset so something as simple as regular walks with friends could very well be life changing to your future. I find dog walkers will talk to almost anyone so if you don’t have anyone to walk with, try borrowing a dog from somebody who wants a day off or see if any local vets or dogs homes need a hand.

Exercise and sociability can also help to keep you healthy which is another important contributing factor. High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity are all interlinked and collectively offer a risk factor of 5%. Hypertension or high blood pressure is the highest risk of all at 2% so finding a way to relieve stress and exercise is a sure fire way to help fight back. Walking and talking are free and readily available to anyone – they are a super power that many overlook but they could help keep your brain healthy for many years to come.

A word of warning for your walk though – do not smoke whilst out and about and being sociable – because smoking isn’t very good for the brain as well as being fairly catastrophic for your lungs. You are 5.5% more likely to develop dementia if you smoke. As I mentioned before – staying healthy is going to help you stay well and smoking is anything but!

The final factor to be cited was depression. It’s quite obviously not possible to avoid depression but much like hearing loss – getting treatment for it is. Finding help, taking help and working your way out of depression can have long term mental benefits as well as the obvious short term ones. There has recently been a rise in people forming groups who meet regularly to walk and talk about their mental health issues, for example Mental Health Mates – started in London but popping up all over now – help people dealing with depression get out and meet other sufferers in a safe environment.

Leading dementia expert Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter, said: “We’re never going to get everyone to make these changes but even if just five or 10 per cent of people followed this advice that would equate to around 5,000 fewer cases of dementia each year.

5000 fewer cases of dementia a year is a significant step in the right direction.  And almost all of it could be prevented by walking and talking. So get out there, whatever the weather and help to future proof your mental wellness!