A recent global survey found more than two-thirds of people worry about developing dementia later in life. Now, the World Alzheimer Report 2014 speaks to how you, as an individual, may reduce your personal risk of dementia, while also spotlighting the steps a nation might take to lower population level dangers. While you cannot change your age or your genetics, you can take four steps to help minimize your risk of developing this dread condition: stop smoking, eat healthy foods, exercise, and challenge your brain. Additionally, to stem dementia risk at the population level, the report suggests public health programs integrate plans for tobacco control and for the prevention, detection, and management of hypertension and diabetes alongside their programs for the reduction of major non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular conditions.

Many people do not understand the actions they can take to waylay a dementia diagnosis. Just 17 percent of people, a survey found, know that socializing impacts their risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while nearly a quarter of people surveyed identified two separate factors, their weight and physical activity, as influencing their risk of developing dementia. Considering how many people simply don't understand how they can help themselves avoid a diagnosis, Alzheimer's Disease International commissioned a team of researchers, led by Dr. Martin Prince, a professor at King's College London, to investigate whether any modifiable risk factors for dementia exist. In particular, the new report focuses on four areas — developmental, psychological and psychosocial, lifestyle, and cardiovascular conditions.

The researchers discovered that diabetes increases the risk of dementia by 50 percent. Since obesity and lack of physical activity are risk factors for diabetes, the report suggests you focus on both keeping your weight in check and exercising as much as possible. The researchers also found smoking cessation to be strongly linked with a reduction in dementia risk. Studies of dementia incidence among people over the age of 65 show the risk of ex-smokers to be on par with that of non-smokers, while the risk for continuing smokers is much higher than both those groups.

Additionally, the study indicated those who have had better educational opportunities in their lifetimes presented a lower risk of dementia in late-life. However, education has no impact on the brain changes leading to Alzheimer’s; scholarship only appears to reduce the impact of brain changes on intellectual functioning, the report finds. The evidence suggests entering old age with better developed, healthier brains helps us to live longer, happier and more independent lives, with a much reduced chance of developing dementia. Furthermore, while brain health promotion is important at every age, it is particularly so in mid-life, when changes in the brain may begin decades before symptoms appear. "From a public health perspective, it is important to note that most of the risk factors for dementia overlap with those for the other major non communicable diseases," said Marc Wortmann, executive director, Alzheimer's Disease International. Healthy body helps maintain a healthy mind.