Dementia Risk Reduction

Learn about the steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia.

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Understanding Dementia Risk Factors

Learn about some of the healthy lifestyle behaviours that you can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Test your knowledge of dementia risk factors with this quiz.

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The importance of brain health

Promoting brain health is important because our brain is the control centre of our body and plays a critical role in our overall well-being. The brain controls everything from our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour to our movement, senses, and bodily functions. Maintaining good brain health can help prevent or delay the onset of cognitive decline and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

Recent research has shown that there are several actions you can take to promote brain health and delay or prevent cognitive impairment.

It is never too early or too late to reduce your risk of dementia.

Read our detailed overview to learn more about what you can do to promote your brain. 

Download our summary handout.

Brain and modifiable dementia risk factors


Basic facts about the importance of promoting brain health and modifiable risk factors.

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Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Sleep

Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep are important to your well-being and brain health.

Bowl of fruit

Weight Management, Diet, and Nutrition

Being overweight, diet, and nutrition can all have an impact on brain function and health.

Brain with heart and blood vessels

Blood Vessel Health

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can all impact your brain health.

Cigarette and alcoholic beverage

Smoking and Alcohol

Don’t smoke and avoid excess alcohol.

People playing chess

Cognitive and Social Activity

Stay curious, stimulate your brain, and stay social.

Ear with symbol for hearing loss

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss impacts our ability to communicate and participate in social activities, our safety and independence as we age, and can also increase the risk of falls.

Damaged brain with bandaid and pill bottle

Other Conditions and Rx

Traumatic brain injury, depression, conditions that affect your oxygen levels, medication side effects, and other considerations.

Brain surrounded by modifiable dementia risk factors


Putting it all together.

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What is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive brain disease that affects our cognition.

Cognition is our ability to interact with the world around us. It includes many important functions, such as:

  • learning and memory - our ability to remember conversations and events or learn new information;
  • language - reading, writing, speaking and understanding;
  • visual and spatial function – how we navigate around our environment;
  • executive function - how we make decisions, solve problems and organize our life; and
  • social function - how we interact appropriately with our family, friends, and colleagues.   

What are cognitive changes associated with aging?

As we age, some of our cognitive abilities gradually decline. We can’t remember quite as much when learning new information; we don’t process things quite as fast, and learning more complicated tasks becomes more difficult. We do, however, continue to make lifelong memories, and even our vocabularies and wisdom may continue to improve into later life.

The changes associated with aging are subtle. For instance, somebody forgetting what they ate for breakfast by lunchtime would never be associated with normal aging. Some degree of cognitive decline is normal and expected as we age; but, importantly, the changes associated with normal aging don’t impact an individual’s ability to function independently.

How is dementia diagnosed?

There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Health care professionals diagnose the different types of dementia based on:

  • a careful medical history,
  • a physical examination,
  • laboratory tests,
  • pen and paper tests that evaluate cognitive function,
  • the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behaviour associated with each different type of dementia.

What can you do?

Recent research has shown that there are several actions you can take to promote brain health and delay or prevent cognitive impairment.

It is never too early or too late to reduce your risk of dementia.

Read our detailed overview to learn more about what you can do to promote your brain.

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What other people are saying:

"This study has been a real eye-opener, as it has educated and informed me on concepts I previously did not associate with the risk of developing dementia." - Study participant, 25-34 years old.

"Informative, not overwhelming. It helped me to consider my own actions and allowed me to talk to my older parents to encourage them to be more proactive about their health." - Study participant, 35-44 years old.

"This is a very timely topic as I look around and see friends and relatives coping with the effects of dementia." - Study participant, 65-74 years old.

"Each topic was well focussed. The medical terminology was easy to understand and very informative." - Study participant, 65-74 years old.

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Anthony J. Levinson, MD, MSc, FRCPC

Neuropsychiatrist, Professor; Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University

About this Project

Who authored and edited this page?

This page was developed by the Division of e-Learning Innovation team and Dr. Anthony J. Levinson, MD, FRCPC (Psychiatry). Dr. Levinson is a psychiatrist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behaviour Neurosciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University. He is the Director of the Division of e-Learning Innovation, as well as the John Evans Chair in Health Sciences Educational Research at McMaster. He practices Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, with a special focus on dementia and neuropsychiatry. He is also the co-developer of the dementia care partner resource, and one of the co-leads for the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. He and his team are passionate about developing high-quality digital content to improve people's understanding about health. By the way, no computer-generated content was used on this page. Specifically, a real human (me) wrote and edited this page without the help of generative AI like ChatGPT or Bing's new AI or otherwise.

Are there any important disclosures or conflicts of interest?

Dr. Levinson receives funding from McMaster University as part of his research chair. He has also received several grants for his work from not-for-profit granting agencies. He has no conflicts of interest with respect to the pharmaceutical industry; and there were no funds from industry used in the development of this website.

When was it last reviewed?

August 22, 2023

What references and evidence were used to create this content?

Content was written and adapted based on credible, high-quality, non-biased sources such as MedlinePlus, the National Institutes for Mental Health, the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, the American Psychiatric Association, the Cochrane Library, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) and others. In particular, evidence-based content about dementia risk reduction was also derived from the World Health Organization and the Lancet Commission reports. Please see additional references on the e-learning lesson landing page

Who funded it?

The initial development of some of this content was funded by the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, powered by Baycrest. Subsequent funding was through support from the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, with support from the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) at McMaster University, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. There are no conflicts of interest to declare. There was no industry funding for this content.