The big brain health check-in – your top questions answered

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By Nathan Choat | Thursday 27 April 2023

We’ve been delighted by the response to our Think Brain Health Check-in, launched in January 2023, to help everyone explore their brain healthy habits and find ways to reduce their risk of dementia.

We knew people had an appetite for information about brain health, but the Check-in’s incredible start has highlighted this more than ever. Since its launch, more than 200,000 people have now taken the opportunity to check in on their brain health.

Mobile phone displaying a multiple choice question from the Think Brain Health Check-in tool. The caption reads: "Have you joined the big brain health check-in yet? Take our quick Check-in and find ways to reduce your risk of dementia."

 

It’s been brilliant to see so many people engaging with the campaign, sharing the Check-in and their brain health pledges with friends and loved ones.

Along the way we’ve also been asked lots of excellent questions about dementia risk reduction and the science behind it.

Below, we’ve answered your most common brain health queries:

Why do some people who do lots to look after their brain health still go on to develop dementia?

Understandably, we’re sometimes asked this question by people whose relatives or friends have sadly gone on to develop dementia, even though they have always done a great deal to stay sharp, keep connected and look after their heart.

Think Brain Health is built around the positive message that there are things we can do show our brains some love and help reduce our risk of dementia in later life. This is something that only a third of people in the UK realise.

However, our dementia risk is shaped by a complex mix of factors. In addition to the risk factors included in the Check-in – including high blood pressure and social isolation – our age, genes and environment all play a role. That’s why people from all walks of life can go on to develop dementia, including those who live extremely healthy lives.

Can we really reduce our risk of dementia, or is it genetic?

If one of your parents has dementia, it’s only natural to wonder why – and what that means for your own risk.

The good news is, we can all take action  to reduce our risk of dementia. In fact, the latest research shows that up to 40% of dementia cases are linked to factors that we may be able to influence.

There are certain genes that can increase – and sometimes decrease – our risk of dementia. These are known as risk genes. But if we inherit a risk gene, it doesn’t mean we will definitely develop the condition. Most people’s risk is determined by a combination of factors, of which genes are one. In fact, research has found that even if we carry a risk gene, looking after our brain health can still help reduce our risk of developing the condition.

In very rare cases, a person can inherit a gene that does not work properly from one of their parents which means it’s very likely that they will develop dementia later in life. Around 1 in 100 cases of dementia are caused by inherited faulty genes.

To find out more about genes and dementia, please visit our website.

What is the link between dementia and hearing loss?

Another great question. This is one of the parts of the Check-in that surprised people the most. In short, scientists have identified a link between hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia. They have also found that treating hearing loss could help reduce this risk substantially.

We want to understand this link further. That’s why Alzheimer’s Research UK is proud to be funding the James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership (PSP) for co-existing dementia and hearing conditions. Part of a collaboration with many experienced partners, this programme will help scientists to identify the top priority areas for future research studies about the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of dementia and hearing conditions.

If you’re worried about your hearing, we recommend speaking to your doctor or trying the Royal National Institute for Deaf People’s free online hearing check. We’re really pleased that more than 5,000 people have already clicked through from our Check-in to this fantastic tool.

Can vitamin B supplements help reduce our risk of dementia?

Low levels of certain B vitamins have been linked to an increased risk of developing problems with memory and thinking, and supplements are important for those diagnosed as being deficient.

However, in most cases a balanced diet will provide all the vitamins and minerals we need to keep our brains healthy. There’s currently no strong evidence to suggest that taking extra B vitamins will protect against dementia.

What’s next?

Following the launch of the Check-in, we’re taking some time to reflect. Look out for an upcoming blog post where we will look at some of the trends we’ve noticed in the responses, and you can find out how your brain healthy habits compare!

In the meantime, if you have any more brain health questions you’d like answered, you can get in touch with our helpful Dementia Research Infoline team. Just ring 0300 111 5 111, or email infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org.

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About the author

Nathan Choat