Yesterday the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its latest guidelines on risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia.  This morning Dave Piper of Transworld Radio and I talked about it on TWR News.  After all, who isn’t interested in reducing their risk of developing dementia?

The new WHO guidelines don’t say anything that we didn’t already know.  Taking exercise, having a sensible diet, not smoking, moderate alcohol, treating high blood pressure and so on – all the things that are good for our hearts help reduce the risk of dementia.

Surprisingly, although it mentioned depression (which slows blood flow to the brain) it didn’t mention feelings of loneliness, even though studies show that chronic feelings of loneliness are as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  Research by the Centre for Aging at Rush University Chicago showed that it also doubles the risk of dementia:  Professor Bob Wilson said the evidence was so strong he thought that pharmaceutical companies should develop a medication for it.  In England GPs have begun social prescribing, where instead of pills patients are prescribed some sort of social activity. In Scotland, postmen are trialling a scheme where they knock the door of an older person’s home to chat briefly as they deliver the mail.

So what does work to reduce the risk of dementia?

Group from the Caerphilly Study

 The Caerphilly Study is still one of the best examples. Involving 2,500 men for 35 years, it showed a reduction in dementia risk of 60%.  See   Meeting together for regular appraisals gave participants a sense of purpose and were also good social events.

Research that’s beginning to make the news is about people who are termed ‘super-agers’: people who live to their 90s and 100s who are still cognitively bright, and who experience chronic diseases very late in life.  There are clusters in five geographical areas.  One is Loma Linda in California, and others are Ikaria Greece; Sardinia Italy; Okinawa Japan; and Nicoya Costa Rica. The super-agers live in areas where communities are strong; places where they know they belong. Most are book-readers who like learning and have a sense of curiosity.  They tend to live in areas where it’s natural to do a lot of walking.  Also, at the centre of their lives is their faith (although this tends to have a peripheral mention) and they had a positive view of life.

Which is interesting because more and more studies show that ‘people who go to church live longer than others’.  Dementia isn’t mentioned in the studies, but longevity indicates having better health for longer.  Belonging to a church means being part of a supportive community, often with activities that involve moving around, such as helping with refreshments or mums and toddlers, etc.  One Study leader thought that in church people are exercising spiritual muscles, which he described as compassionate thinking (missing the point, really!)  and another Professor said the evidence was so strong that he thought of going to church himself, even though he wasn’t a believer.

So, to sum up, what does reduce the risk of dementia?

  1. Sensible, healthy living – we all know what that means.
  2. Keeping socially connected and going to church! God designed people to WORK with one another, to build one another up and bear one another’s burdens.
  3. Keep learning, keep reading, and stay curious…
  4. Stay involved with life volunteer for charity work when you retire!
  5. Do as Proverbs 23:4 says: ‘Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow all of life’s consequences’ (CJB).





Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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