Lifestyle changes to reduce dementia risk

Almost 10 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed every year, says the World Health Organization in its first ever report on reducing the risk of dementia. The WHO warns that if left unattended the disorder could triple in the next 30 years.

The WHO report on dementia titled, ‘Risk Reduction of Cognitive Decline and Dementia: WHO Guidelines’ recommends several steps to reduce the risks of developing dementia. In this article, Dr. Omar El-Agnaf, Executive Director, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, elaborates on dementia and explains why we should follow the WHO recommendations.

Dementia causes a deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities, and there are more than 50 types of such cognitive declines, of which Alzheimer’s is by far the most common.

While genetics can play a role in a small percentage of dementia’s cases, age remains the biggest risk factor for cognitive decline, although dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of ageing.

Though there is no effective treatments for dementia, which affects 5 percent of the worldwide population over the age of 65, and up to 25 percent over the age of 85, there are several things we can do to delay or slow the onset and progression of the disease.

WHO’s 12-Step Guide to Reducing the Risk of Developing Dementia

Exercise: At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week (or a combination of the two).

Quit smoking: Smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in addition to other health issues.

Eat well: A Mediterranean diet consisting of a high intake of cereals, fruits, fish, legumes, and vegetables, but little meat or dairy products is advised. There is no proven benefit in relation to reducing the risk of dementia in taking dietary supplements such as vitamins B and E.

Avoid heavy alcohol intake: Heavy drinking increases the risk of cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Brain training: Board games and crosswords can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Be social: Social participation and social support are strongly connected to good health and well-being.

Manage weight: Studies show that obesity in mid-life increases the risk of dementia.

Check blood pressure: A pattern of increased blood pressure during mid-life followed by a rapid decrease in blood pressure later in life has been found in individuals who go on to develop dementia.

Check for diabetes: The presence of late life diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of dementia so get yourself checked at least once a year.

Check cholesterol: Several epidemiological studies have demonstrated a close relationship between high cholesterol levels and the onset of dementia.

Depression: Seek treatment if you are depressed as there is substantial evidence linking depression to cognitive decline and dementia.

Check hearing: Hearing loss has been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

In addition, iIt is well documented by epidemiological studies that exposure to toxic environmental agents can potentially lead to neurological disorders. Reducing exposure to toxic environmental agents is a critical area of prevention from neurological disorders.

At Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), we place great importance on researching dementia, among other diseases. I am especially proud of our Neurological Disorders Research Center, which has played a major role in establishing QBRI as the regional leader for research on dementia.

I believe the best treatment for any disease is prevention, and at QBRI, we recommend that the nation and the region should introduce a new strategy for preventive medicine. We need to raise more public awareness and engage with schools and families. The starting point to having a healthy lifestyle is eating well, exercising, avoiding harmful foods and substances, getting enough sleep, and avoiding stress.




Dr. Omar El-Agnaf

Executive Director of the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI). He is considered a pioneer in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. The recipient of eight regional and international awards recognizing his scientific and leadership contributions, holds 12 patents, and possesses notable experience in licensing products stemming from his novel research.

In 2004, he was appointed to the Biochemistry Department at the College of Medicine at United Arab Emirates University. He joined the College of Science and Engineering at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in 2014, and was appointed as QBRI Executive Director in December 2018.