Reducing our risk of dementia: “It’s never too early to start and never too late”


By Prof Alistair Burns | Thursday 29 April 2021

In the run up to Dementia Action Week (17-23 May 2021), Prof Alistair Burns, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at The University of Manchester, explains why we should act now on brain health, whatever age we are.

It’s never too early or too late in life to take action on brain health and reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The evidence tells us that our individual risk is shaped by a range of factors that begin early and continue throughout life, and many of these we can influence.

The ‘life-course model’, central to the 2020 Lancet Commission on dementia, shows that education early in life may impact our dementia risk decades later, and the extent to which we look after our cardiovascular health, and stay socially and cognitively active in midlife and later-life also makes a real difference.


Becoming a brain health conscious nation

Although we’ve seen important progress in raising the profile of dementia in recent years, including aspects of prevention, many people still don’t realise that they have the power to influence their risk.

The number of people in the UK living with the condition is predicted to more than double by 2050, so improving understanding at an earlier age and helping people engage with their brain health throughout life is key to halting this trend.

The NHS has published guidance on dementia including aspects around prevention, and I’m encouraged that the response to Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign shows a strong appetite, from people of all ages, to think about their brain health.    

I think this initiative, along with others, mean that understanding and awareness will continue to grow. More of us will become conscious of our brain health, actively looking after it as we do other areas of our health – and seeking help should we have concerns.

Recent figures show a drop in the number of people receiving a diagnosis for dementia since the COVID 19 pandemic began.  We know that many people have been worried about having an assessment but memory clinics are open for business. Anyone worried about their memory should come for an assessment which will identify other potential causes or give access to peri-diagnostic support and treatments to help manage symptoms.


Taking action

So as Dementia Action Week approaches, why not commit to one small change to benefit your brain?

This could be walking a little further each day, use your bicycle where you can, getting in touch with friends, drinking in moderation, reading more, doing some puzzles, or even learning to play a musical instrument. Whatever you choose, and whatever your age, your brain will thank you for it!

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About the author

Prof Alistair Burns

Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at The University of Manchester