Diet and social life key to avoiding dementia: international expert

A balanced diet and active social life may be the best way to prevent or delay the onset of dementia, according to UK-based expert Professor Craig Ritchie.

The Professor of the Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh will be in Sydney for the International Dementia Conference from June 7-8, where he will discuss the latest research into potential causes of dementia.

Professor Ritchie leads the PREVENT project – a major international initiative to identify mid-life risks for later life dementia – and the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia.

While his main job is drug development, Professor Ritchie said dementia treatment research can be overshadowed by focus on a cure rather than prevention through better public health.

“Drug treatments are going to be part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution,” he said.

“The evidence we’re seeing now suggests that decisions you make in mid-life can impact your chances of getting dementia, as well as your brain health after diagnosis.”


Professor Ritchie said people aged 40-59 should focus on the mantra “what’s good for your heart is good for your head”. This is because good Cardiovascular and respiratory health will help maintain a good supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

Professor Ritchie also said it’s good to create these habits early such as sporting activity as lifestyle patterns set in younger years may actually become even more crucial to brain health if continued on into later life.

“As you get older, the most important thing is to keep your mind active, and the evidence suggests you should do new things to stimulate your brain. “I often say to people in their 50s and 60s, if you don’t play a musical instrument, now is the time to pick up the guitar or start playing the piano. There’s no doubt your brain lights up more learning new things rather than just repeating old skills.

“But one of the most engaging things you can do is just have a good conversation. So for seniors, the most important hole at the golf course could be the 19th.”

Professor Ritchie said preventing dementia means creating a society where older people are supported and encouraged to maintain good social lives.

“There’s only so much doctors and scientists can do. You’ve got to really engage the public and the politicians in all of this,” he said.

“If we’re managing to achieve some improvements in brain health inadvertently through improvements in cardiovascular health; imagine what we could achieve if we were actually purposeful and really driven in targeting brain health and dementia prevention.”

Professor Ritchie will be speaking at Day 1 of the International Dementia Conference on the topic of Preventing Dementia: False Promise or True Progress?

The conference is presented by leading aged care provider HammondCare and will feature more than 70 sessions from 75 speakers, including eight speakers living with dementia. More than 1000 delegates from 15 countries will engage with topics including innovation in dementia care, clinical research for dementia treatment, and living life well with dementia.

Media inquiries: For more information or to request an interview, please contact Harrison Vesey hvesey@hammond.com.au on (02) 8280 8408.

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