Can You Prevent Dementia? Reduce Your Risk

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dementia is a progressive and complicated condition characterized by deteriorating memory and cognitive function. Whether you’re diagnosed with dementia or witness a loved one with the condition, both experiences can be painful and difficult to comprehend.  

Researchers are still working to understand what causes dementia and which factors and lifestyle choices could reduce a person's risk of developing the condition later in life. As science, research, and clinical trials deepen the understanding of the science behind dementia, there may still be several ways to exercise your brain and boost long-term health, even as a young adult.

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What is dementia? 

As defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), dementia is the generalized and pervasive deterioration of memory, coupled with a decline in at least one other cognitive function (for example, language abilities) and an executive function. 

More broadly, dementia is a group of symptoms caused by various diseases that damage nerve cells in the brain. These symptoms are progressive, meaning they worsen over time, and may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion and progressive inability to perform daily tasks
  • Challenges with language and comprehension
  • Behavioral changes

Although these symptoms might be associated with aging, dementia is not a natural part of aging. 


Within the umbrella term of dementia, there are four main types of the condition, including the following. 

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Often, the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s are memory, thinking, language, or perception challenges. 

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia and the most varied in symptoms. These may include difficulties following steps, planning, and organizing or reduced speed of thought and concentration.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

DLB is caused by Lewy body disease, which creates build-ups of protein clumps, called Lewy bodies, in brain cells. Over time, this build-up can lead to challenges with focus, movement, sleep, and delusions.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

FTD, also called Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia, is a less common form of dementia affecting personality, behavior, and language. 

Other types  

About 19 out of 20 people with dementia receive one of the above four diagnoses. However, there are other related dementias. In some cases, people may have symptoms of more than one type and be diagnosed with mixed dementia.

Is it preventable? 

Because scientists have not determined a singular cause for dementia, the development of the condition can be challenging to predict and prevent. Currently, there are no proven approaches for preventing dementia fully.

However, there are ways to reduce your risk of dementia and lead a healthier, more enriching life. In some cases, these approaches may slow down the severity of symptoms as dementia develops. 

Five ways of lowering the risk of dementia

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, an estimated one out of three cases of dementia is preventable. Improve brain health with the following five strategies, and you may build up resiliency against many forms of dementia. 

Manage high blood pressure and blood sugar

High blood pressure and blood sugar have been associated with dementia. High blood pressure leads to a higher risk of stroke and vascular dementia, while high blood sugar increases your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and dementia.

For some people, partaking in more healthy behavioral patterns can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and sugar, including the following: 

  • Regular physical activity and eating healthy food 
  • Smoking or substance use cessation 
  • Medication, if recommended by your doctor
  • Regular glucose checks 

Your primary care doctor can help you assess your blood pressure and sugar and determine whether any changes are necessary to improve your present and future health. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Focus on body and brain health

The meaning of a “healthy” diet can look different for each person. However, the standard recommendations for nutrition from doctors and researchers can be a place to start. Listening to your body, making healthy food choices, and finding your preferred form of exercise may help you prevent dementia and lead a healthier lifestyle. 

Listening to your body can involve the following actions: 

  • Exercising regularly, but taking a break when you’re feeling tired or sick
  • Ensuring you regularly drink water
  • Noticing and responding to your natural hunger cues and eating healthily
  • “Checking in” with yourself throughout the day and responding to emotional, physical, or social needs
  • Not drinking too much alcohol

Trusting your body can take time, but it is a meaningful process that can potentially reduce your risk of dementia and other health problems later in life.

Exercise your body and brain

Regular physical exercise, whether walking, running, dancing, or strolling around the park with a neighbor or four-legged friend, can have significant benefits for your blood vessels and heart, and it may help prevent lung disease. However, your brain can also benefit from exercise. To stretch your mental muscles, try incorporating some of the following activities into your daily routine:

  • Commit to learning a new skill, such as knitting, woodworking, or learning a language
  • Play board and card games
  • Make crafts
  • Do a daily crossword
  • Read books across a range of genres
  • Wear ear protection and don’t listen to headphones or earbuds for too long
  • Wear a helmet if doing activities like riding a bike to prevent head injury

Whatever you choose, one of the keys to mental and physical exercise is variety. You can set the foundation for a healthy body and brain by challenging your mind and body with unique daily exercises.

Stay connected

Beyond feelings of warmth and familiarity, your connections to friends, family members, and other loved ones may reduce the risk of dementia. 

Your social support system is a natural antidote to loneliness, a pervasive concern among people of all ages. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, based on a 2020 study of loneliness in older adults. As you age, forming new social connections can feel daunting. However, you can make friends at any age.  

To expand your social circle, join a club or recreational sports league, schedule regular calls or in-person meetups with friends, or volunteer in your community. You may find people with common values and interests or connect with people you’d never expect to meet. Either way, you can combat loneliness while lowering the risk of dementia, which offers multiple benefits at once. If you are hard of hearing and find that it makes it difficult for you to engage in conversation, talk to your doctor about whether hearing aids are a good option for you.

Looking for ways to keep your brain healthy?

Invest in your mental health

Other risk factors for dementia may be beyond your control. According to the National Institute on Aging, factors that may increase the likelihood of dementia include:

  • Age: Older age is the greatest known risk factor for dementia.
  • Racial identity: Research suggests that compared to white people, Black and Hispanic people are significantly more likely to develop dementia.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop dementia during their lifetime. 

Some other things that may have links to dementia include air pollution, hearing loss, head injuries

Researchers are currently investigating causes and treatments, and some clinical trial results have been hopeful. More dementia research is needed to understand these trends and clarify the causes of dementia so that people affected by this condition can receive the treatment they deserve.

Seek support with online therapy

In the meantime, some people seek therapy to supplement their health journey. Whether you’re grappling with the meaning of a recent diagnosis or want to develop daily coping strategies, therapy can become a healthy part of a well-rounded lifestyle.

While some people prefer in-person therapy, online therapy is an increasingly popular option. Using a digital platform like BetterHelp, you can match with a board-certified therapist within 48 hours of signing up for services. Online therapists are licensed, accredited, and experienced in their fields. Many work with individuals and family members of those with a challenging diagnosis, and they may ensure your sessions are convenient, reachable, and valuable.

A growing body of research shows that online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face options. One 2022 study assessed the pilot of an online Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) program for family caregivers of people with dementia. Researchers found that in-person ACT could effectively reduce depressive symptoms, stress reactions, and feelings of burden among family caregivers. This study found that online ACT offered similarly effective results to in-person options and that future programs can make therapy more reachable and affordable for family dementia caregivers.


Scientists are still learning more about the causes of dementia and working to raise awareness about the potential steps that individuals and healthcare providers can take to prevent its onset. While there may be more to learn about how to prevent Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, you can take several proactive steps toward a healthier brain, body, and mind. If you’re unsure about the next steps, you can contact a licensed therapist for further support. They can offer emotional and social support and may empower you with skills and resources to invest in your long-term mental and physical health.
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