Why we must be educating people in midlife about reducing their risk of dementia

Too often we hear that dementia is just part and parcel of getting older, that nothing can be done to stop this cruel condition in its tracks. But we know that’s not the case. Dementia is not a by-product of ageing, it is caused by diseases that attack the brain – and diseases can be defeated.

Investing in pioneering research to find new treatments is our strongest weapon in the battle against dementia, but we now know that people can make positive lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of developing the condition.

At Alzheimer’s Research UK, as the UK’s leading dementia research charity, it’s our aim to arm people with this knowledge. Even though we do not have a way to prevent dementia for certain, we know there are things people can do to reduce risk. But it’s important they know about this at the right time.

We know changes in the brain start many years before we see symptoms, so efforts to reduce risk are likely to have the greatest impact earlier in life – and we’ve recently seen some success with this.

Along with Public Health England and Alzheimer’s Society, we ran an innovative pilot project which saw, for the first time, dementia risk reduction messages delivered to 40-64-year-olds during their NHS Health Check.

The pilot was carried out at community sites in Manchester, Bury, Southampton and Birmingham. What the results showed was promise in shifting public awareness and understanding of dementia risk, something that is key if we are to bring down the numbers of people developing the condition in the coming years.

Focussing on ‘what’s good for your heart is good for your brain’, the advice included messages about lifestyle measures that most of us are already familiar with for other health conditions: stopping smoking, being physically active, eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, connecting with people and keeping mentally active.

As dementia risk is a complex mix of age, genetic and lifestyle factors, these measures aren’t a sure-fire prevention but they might help to reduce your overall risk of dementia.

Of the 164 people who recalled the dementia messaging after their check-up, 75% said they were more likely to adopt a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing dementia, while 80% said the advice would have some impact on their behaviour.

While we are delighted with what this pilot has achieved, we must now take it further and ensure that all people in midlife are given advice about dementia risk during their NHS Health Check.

This is the ideal platform, and the right time, to engage with people about dementia risk reduction and the advice will also be beneficial in improving people’s overall health. Who knows, it could be the connection to dementia that triggers a positive lifestyle change, which in turn could also help combat the risk of other conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

By rolling this advice out nationally, we would be addressing the strong public desire to find out more about dementia, which has been growing as the condition has risen in the public’s consciousness. This growing awareness is partly due to the sheer number of people impacted by this devastating condition. Currently, there are 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, and this number is set to rise to one million by 2025. But by encouraging more people to take up healthy habits, we hope to see fewer people developing the condition in the future.

The results of this study, along with our calls to make dementia information mandatory for all NHS Health Checks, could not be more timely. Only last month, we saw the headlines dominated with news suggesting that nine modifiable risk factors, if eliminated, could potentially prevent one third of dementia cases, following a report published in The Lancet.

With the NHS Health Check, we have an unmissable opportunity to empower people with advice that may help them reduce their risk of dementia, and these results show how much of a difference we have the potential to make.

Find out more about reducing your risk of dementia

This blog is a cross-post with the Association of Medical Research Charities.


  1. DECHY on 23rd August 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I propose to teach At school At least 3 months about thèse deseases: TC, Park, alcool Risk, Alzheimer, SIDA, etc.

  2. Mrs VJ Smith on 23rd August 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Last Friday I was diagnosed with Dementia, I have it at the front of the Brain, in early stages.
    I will be taking a tablet to slow it down.

    There is a History of it in my family, got my older brother with it, all so and cousin as got it,
    the others that had it are no longer with us.

    I am a happy person, so I am going to think positive and still about my daily things.

    • Terina Notz on 11th August 2018 at 5:31 am

      Well done you, I wish my friend had your attitude! She has it at the back of the brain and is not fighting at all. Says it is what it is, because of her attitude I cannot help her fight it as she is resisting things I am trying to put in place to help her manage. I know some of it is the disease BUT a great deal is lack of effort. I feel I am going to loose her in the blink of an eye as I see small changes already. She is only 53 and she was diagnosed in January. All the best to you, I admire you.

    • Colin Stegeman on 12th August 2018 at 6:11 am

      I am very sorry to learn of you problem my wife already with Multi Myeloma was diagnosed 8 days ago and now on mementine.
      I am trying to get to grips with her troubles to make llife easier for her. It is quite a struggle for me age 83 our dog is a great friend for both of us. Gradually I hope my wife and I improve in dealing with the problems. Alzheimer’s Society have been excellent but I need time to assimilate.

  3. Joan on 23rd August 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Too late for me!! My G.P,s diagnosis of Depression turned out to be “early onset AlzheimersIfound out thanks to my son who took me to a Consultant who organised a Brain Scan which gave me the devastating news

    • John Farrin on 23rd August 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Very sorry to read your comments, exactly the same happened to my wife, GP’s must be educated to recognise symptoms earlier, it took 18 months of being diagnosed with Depression before the devastating news of “its early onset Alzheimer’s”


  4. victor lyn williams on 10th August 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Disappointing that alcohol is not giver more importance with regard to Dementia.
    Old age is stated as being a major reason for Dementia but I think that the longer we drink alcohol that is what increases the risk. Has any research been done on this?

    • ARUK Blog Editor on 13th August 2018 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Victor, thanks for getting in touch. There is a lot of work going on right now looking at the links between alcohol and dementia. Please visit our website for some more information: Hope this help.

    • Teea Reijonen on 22nd August 2018 at 10:25 pm

      A study published in the British Medical Journal last year found that those who drank 14-21 units a week had three times the normal odds of damage to that part of the brain concerned with memory.

      See the article in the Guardian “Chronic heavy drinking leads to serious risk of dementia, study warns.” However even moderate alcohol consumption has a very negative effect.

  5. Sylvia. [email protected] on 10th August 2018 at 10:05 pm

    I have Been in Bern diagnosed with Alziemers I have cronic back pain ex’ seeing other doctor s and 2. Have. Said. I don’t have. It. Having brain scan .

    on29 August. I am 67.:

  6. Mags H on 10th August 2018 at 10:28 pm

    I worry about Dementia and if it is already affecting me. I do have Type 2 Diabetes for about 5 years. I have despression to which I have had for 10-15 years. I had a simple question and answer test at the doctors but that was far too easy. Not sure how I could find out for sure.

  7. Jane on 11th August 2018 at 6:36 am

    My mum was diagnosed with vitamin b12 deficiency apparently this can affect the brain and cause damage once damaged it will never be repaired. I wonder if my mums diagnosis with b12 deficiency hid her dementia in the beginning?

    • ARUK Blog Editor on 13th August 2018 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Jane,

      Thanks for your comment. So sorry to hear about your mum. B12 deficiency and dementia have many overlapping symptoms, including memory problems, depression and problems with mobility. Undiagnosed and untreated B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage, and this is likely to affect a person’s cognition. So yes, what you have proposed is a possibility. What we know from existing research findings is that high homocysteine levels are a risk factor for dementia, and that B12 is known to reduce these levels. But research also shows that taking regular B12 supplements does not reduce our risk of developing a condition like Alzheimer’s disease. Further research is necessary to understand more about the complex relationship between B12 deficiency and dementia. Hope this helps.

  8. Karen on 11th August 2018 at 7:53 am

    My mum was diagnosed with front temporal lobe alzheimers disease at age 69. She was a fit outgoing vivacious lady.
    She was on HRT patches) from age 55-65 but was told to stop by her doctor and soon after she stopped HRT her depression developed and then the memory problems.
    She died age 79, 2 years ago.
    I am age 57 and have been on HRT now since age 50 and I intend to carry on with it as I think in my mum’s case the lack of oestrogen caused her depression which lead to her developing Alzheimers .
    Of course I have no proof.
    I will do anything in my power to avoid developing this vile disease so as well as the HRT patches I exercise regularly, eat healthily ie no processed food , avoiding too much sugar , a glass of red daily. I also play tennis and socialise with many people. And am interested in current affairs. And love to do gardening
    I do hope I am not going to develop Alzheimers but at least I am trying to avoid it the best I can

  9. Colin Stegeman on 12th August 2018 at 6:26 am

    We don’t yet know enough asmy wife was diagnosed 8 days ago. She is now on mementine, she has been almost Tee total all her life had a sherry at Cristinamas when it is her birthday and on mine in June and the odd glass of wine with a meal. We are ovo lacto vegetarians and have always engaged in outdoor life, walking, canoeing caravaning until Multi Myeloma stopped that 10 years ago. A dog and therefore walking has been very much part of out lives, neither of us are overweight and never have been.

    We press on with both of her troubles doing the best we can.

  10. Mr N Burslem on 12th August 2018 at 2:16 pm

    I am 70 years old ,disabled and living alone. What provision is there for people like me now ??

    • ARUK Blog Editor on 13th August 2018 at 2:11 pm


      As a biomedical research charity, we raise money to fund research into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of dementia. We are unfortunately unable to provide recommendations on care.
      There is another charity called Alzheimer’s Society. Their focus is very much on the care of people with dementia, providing information and services including respite care and support. I would recommend that you contact them on 0300 222 1122 or email [email protected]. Hope this helps.

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About the author

Emma Hardwick

Team: Campaigning