Can dementia be prevented?

By Dr. Andrew Frank

Alzheimer’s disease and are feared conditions as they rob individuals of their most precious cognitive and functional abilities.  Until effective treatment is developed for Alzheimer’s disease, a major focus in world population health is prevention of dementia, or at least delaying its onset. At Bruyère Continuing Care in Ottawa, this is the focus of our memory program.

There are many ways which have been shown to delay or possibly prevent the onset of dementia.  Without question, detecting and treating high blood pressure significantly reduces the risk of developing memory loss.  Careful management of diabetes has also proven to be effective.  Smoking cessation is a major factor for maintaining brain health, among other things.


A healthy and active lifestyle is also beneficial.  Surprisingly, physical activity can be as helpful to the brain as it is to the heart.  It’s as easy as going for a walk.  As little as thirty minutes, three times a week is enough to make a real difference.  Weight management is also beneficial for memory care.

Of course, cognitive stimulation is also effective.  This involves any creative pursuit or game, including cards and puzzles.  Recently, there has been movement toward online cognitive training, such as Posit Science (www.brainhq.com) and Lumosity (www.lumosity.com).  An active social life can also provide ample cognitive stimulation, so maintaining connections to family and friends can make a world of difference.

A healthy diet has been associated with less dementia, particularly the Mediterranean diet, which involves fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and light meats including poultry and omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish.  An occasional glass of red wine is optional.

Efforts to maintain a positive mood and diminished stress/anxiety can boost cognitive functioning.  The brain also needs adequate high-quality sleep to consolidate memory, helped by treating sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

While it may not be possible to stop dementia, there are ways to delay it.  Putting these suggestions into practice will lead to more years of quality life, and less chance of experiencing the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease in our lifetime.

The keys to delaying and possibly preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

  1. Blood pressure, diabetes, and weight management
  2. Smoking cessation
  3. Physical exercise
  4. Mental stimulation
  5. Social engagement
  6. Healthy diet (e.g. Mediterranean)
  7. Stress reduction
  8. Quality sleep

Dr. Andrew Frank M.D. B.Sc.H. F.R.C.P.(C) is a Cognitive Neurologist, and Medical Directorat Bruyère Memory Program, Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital.