Six lifestyle choices that reduce the risk of dementia

A 10-year published study has shown that if people embrace six positive lifestyle choices the rate of memory decline slows.

And even better results are found when the lifestyle choices are taken together.

Researchers from the National Center for Neurological Disorders in Beijing, China, whose work is published in the BMJ, analysed 29,000 adults over 60 with normal cognitive function.

Memory function was measured using tests and people were checked for the APOE gene, which is the strongest risk-factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease, when the study began in 2009. The subjects, part of the China Cognition and Aging Study, were then monitored for 10 years with periodic assessments.

A healthy lifestyle score combining six factors was calculated: a healthy diet, regular exercise, active social contact, cognitive activity, non-smoking; and no consumption of alcohol. 

After accounting for factors likely to affect the results, the researchers found that each individual healthy behaviour was associated with a slower-than-average decline in memory over 10 years.

A healthy diet - deemed as eating the recommended intake of at least seven out of 12 food groups: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts and tea - had the strongest effect on slowing memory decline, followed by cognitive activity and then physical exercise.

People with the APOE gene who had healthy lives on the whole also experienced a slower rate of memory decline than those with APOE who were the least healthy.

People with four to six healthy behaviours, or two to three, were almost 90% and almost 30% respectively, less likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment relative to those who were the least healthy.

“This is a well-conducted study, which followed people over a long period of time, and adds to the substantial evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help to support memory and thinking skills as we age,” said Dr Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK.


“Too few of us know that there are steps we can all take to reduce our chances of dementia in later life.”

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A special thanks to our contributors

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.