A new study has given yet another reason to train yourself out of constant negative thinking, finding it might increase the risk of dementia. From positive thinking to regular activity, knowing how to reduce your risk of dementia is something you can act on today.
Reduce your risk of dementia with positive thinking
The research, by University College London and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found a link between what scientists call ‘repetitive negative thinking’ and cognitive decline in participants over the age of 55.
Lead author Dr Natalie Marchant said: “Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.
“We hope that our findings could be used to develop strategies to lower people’s risk of dementia by helping them to reduce their negative thinking patterns.”
Consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic Dr Elena Touroni says: “People who are very hard on themselves tend to have what we call in psychology ‘unrelenting standards’. The sky is the limit – there is always something more to achieve. This is a psychological vulnerability can land someone in a dangerous place.”
Read our guide on how to prevent dementia according to a brain surgeon.
How to stop negative thoughts
These are some of Touroni’s tips for people who want to break out of the pattern of repetitive negative thoughts that may help reduce the risk of dementia…
- Don’t believe everything you think
“Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean it’s true. When you notice you’re being hard on yourself or thinking very negatively, take a step back and question the thought you’re having. Is there any evidence to support this? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you seeing the whole picture or just focusing on the worst possible scenario?”
- Ask yourself if you’d talk to a friend this way
“Often we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a friend. Next time you are being hard on yourself, try showing yourself the same kindness and compassion you’d show a friend.”
- Try understand where this self-criticism comes from
“Do you feel like you’re trying to prove something (to yourself or others)? Can you trace back to where this all started? Therapy is a great place to start exploring your earlier experiences and how they might be impacting you now.”
- Dedicate time to yourself
“Commit to doing at least one thing a day that is just for your wellbeing and pleasure – and just for you. For example, run yourself a nice long bath, do an online yoga class etc.”
- Try be kind to yourself
“Practise gratitude for things you already have rather than focusing on the things you don’t have (mindfulness can help with this).”
How to reduce your risk of dementia
It’s estimated that one in 14 people over 65 will develop dementia in the UK, and Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia affect one in six people over 80 – but did you know that a few simple lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk of developing it?
According to new research, not a lot of us do. Just one in three of us believe it’s possible to guard against dementia, with almost half (48%) of UK adults not knowing a single risk factor.
A poll, which was carried out Ipsos MORI for Alzheimer’s Research UK, found that of the 2,361 UK adults surveyed, only 1% were able to name all the seven known risk factors for the degenerative brain disease (a risk factor being anything that increases a person’s risk of developing a condition).
Worryingly, experts believe that a third of all cases of dementia are influenced by common factors that are under people’s control, so it’s never been more important to arm yourself with the facts.
Alzheimer’s Society say that while there’s no way to be sure of preventing dementia altogether, there are some ‘modifiable’ factors we can influence – meaning we can take action to change them and potentially reduce the risk of dementia.
Here are the lifestyle areas you should consider…
Read our interview with Sir Tony Robinson: ‘For 15 years, dementia was the main thing in my life’
Lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of dementia
Smoking and dementia
“Smokers are at an increased risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Research estimates the effect is between a 30% and a 50% increase in risk depending on the study and type of dementia,” says Alzheimer’s Society research communications manager Lotty Davies.
So don’t smoke. If you do already, try to quit the habit.
Exercise and dementia
“Middle aged and older adults who engage in regular aerobic exercise have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Studies estimate the protective effect to be about 30-40% reduced risk of dementia compared to those who do little or no physical activity,” says Davies.
The charity recommend keeping physically active for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.
Head injury and dementia risk
“A severe injury to the head could increase the risk of dementia later in life,” she says. “There is lots of variability between studies on the size of the effect, but a study of 200,000 US war veterans suggests a severe head injury can increase the risk of dementia by up to 60%.”
Diet and dementia
“Following a Mediterranean-style diet (with a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, and low levels of red meat and sugar) is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Studies estimate that it could reduce the risk by about a third,” Davies says.
It’s also advisable to keep your alcohol within recommended limits: a maximum of 14 units each week for men and women, spread over 3 or more days.
Diabetes and dementia
“People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop dementia than non-diabetics,” she says.
Keeping to a healthy weight will reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease – and therefore probably of dementia too, the charity say.
High blood pressure
“Long-term research studies have demonstrated that high blood pressure in mid-life is a key factor that can increase your risk of developing dementia in later life,” Davies says. “A lifelong approach to good health as the best way to lower your risk of dementia.”
If you do have either of these conditions it’s important to manage them correctly.
Poor childhood education
“People who spend fewer years in education as a child have an increased risk of developing dementia in later life. Although we can’t change this as adults, it is something that we can change as a society to reduce the cases of dementia in our future population,” she says.
The charity recommends giving your brain a daily workout by reading, doing puzzles, word searches or crosswords, playing cards or learning something new.
They also say keeping socially engaged and having a good social network may reduce your dementia risk. Take up a new hobby that involves socialising, join a club or volunteer.
Alongside this, there are also other risk factors for dementia that are not in our control. These include ageing, genes, gender (research suggests that women are more likely to develop it than men) and ethnicity (there is some evidence to suggest that people of South Asian, African or African-Caribbean origin develop dementia more often than Europeans), according to the charity.
Although Alzheimer’s Society says that the biggest risk factor for dementia is getting older, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there are ways to actively reduce your risk as an individual.
Visit alzheimers.org.uk for more information.
Read our interview with Ruth Langsford: 8 tips for families living with dementia at Christmas