The charity Age UK, which carried out the research, is recommending five actions that people can take to maintain brain health.
They include regular physical exercise, a Mediterranean diet, not smoking, drinking in moderation and preventing diabetes.
Physical exercise, such as aerobic, resistance or balance activity, was found to be the most effective way to ward off cognitive decline in healthy older people and to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies suggested exercising three to five times a week for between 30 minutes and an hour was beneficial and an evidence review carried out by Age UK found there are significantly more new cases of Alzheimer’s among smokers.
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About 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, which will affect one in three people over the age of 65, according to the latest estimates.
The review also backed claims suggesting very heavy drinking is linked to dementia, leading to loss of brain tissue, particularly in parts of the brain responsible for memory and processing, and interpreting visual information.
Moderate levels of alcohol use, however, were found to protect brain tissue by increasing “good” cholesterol and lowering “bad” cholesterol.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “While there’s still no cure or way to reverse dementia, this evidence shows that there are simple and effective ways to reduce our risk of developing it to begin with.
“What’s more, the changes we need to make to keep our brains healthy are already proven to be good for the heart and overall health, so it’s common sense for us all to try and build them into our lives.
“The sooner we start, the better our chance of having a healthy later life.”
One large UK study, carried out over 30 years, found men aged 45-59 who followed four to five of the identified lifestyle factors, were found to have a 36 per cent lower risk of developing cognitive decline and a 36 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not.
Age UK funds the University of Edinburgh’s research project The Disconnected Mind, which examines how thinking skills alter with age and the influences behind those changes.
Dementia is a set of behaviours or “symptoms” that suggest difficulties with cognitive function. The most common symptoms include memory loss, confusion, mood and personality changes, problems with planning, and doing tasks in the right order. Dementia is diagnosed when the symptoms cause such problems with everyday tasks that the sufferer cannot carry on living independently without care.
There are more than 100 types and many causes of dementia. Late-onset Alzheimer’s, the disease diagnosed at the age of 65 or later, is the most common form, accounting for around two-thirds of cases in the UK. Vascular dementia is the next most common.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is thought to account for fewer than one in 1,000 cases, is typically diagnosed before the age of 60 to 65.
Genetic causes of familial Alzheimer’s have been identified which indicate that having a parent with the disease means an individual usually has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting it.
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