Reducing the risk of dementia

Diet “is one of the lifestyle things I discuss with all of my patients,” Wisniewski said. “The other thing we typically discuss with patients is the importance of staying physically and mentally active."

Other important ways to reduce risk of dementia include:

  • Getting adequate sleep.
  • Controlling blood pressure.
  • Having healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

All of those are interventions everyone can take to keep their brain healthy and reduce the risk for dementia development,” said Shannon.

The new study found almost a one-quarter reduction in risk for dementia, Wisniewski said. “That’s a pretty big risk reduction, by doing something that is not that challenging,” he added.  

While it’s not known exactly how the Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of dementia, it likely has multiple effects, ranging from reducing antioxidants, helping to tamp down inflammation, and improving the status of the microbiome, Wisniewski said.   

With no good medication to treat dementia, experts have been focusing on lifestyle factors that may have some bearing on risk, said Dr. Emily Rogalski, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

At the moment, it's unclear if there is a point when it’s too late to protect against dementia.

“But giving up and saying it’s too late is probably not the right attitude to take," she said.

“We used to think we were born with all the brain cells we were ever going to have and that the brain was not that plastic, or malleable or resilient,” Rogalski said. “We’ve learned over the past couple of decades that there is room for adaptation and change.”