The number of people with dementia is on the increase but can the disease be prevented? Operation Transformation is taking look on the hit RTÉ One show this evening with Trinity's Dr Sabina Brennan.

Dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, will increase from an estimated 48,000 at present to around 140,000 by 2041 - a 240% hike of the 2006 figure of 41,447.

Next year alone, some 4,000 people will develop dementia — that's 11 people a day according to Creating Excellence in Dementia Care - A Research Review for Ireland's National Dementia Strategy.  

Can Alzheimer's disease be prevented? There are no guarantees, but healthy lifestyle choices will help keep your brain as healthy as possible as you age.

By making better lifestyle choices now, you can improve your brain's ability to sustain long-term health and fight illnesses.

The impact of the food we eat has on our brain function is largely overlooked.

RTÉ LifeStyle spoke to Dr Sabina Brennan, Psychologist and Research Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin. She develops films and other educational materials through her campus company Trinity Brain Health.

"I’m on a mission to bring brain health to as wide an audience as possible so I was delighted that Operation Transformation asked me to talk about brain health and dementia risk reduction," Dr Brennan said. 

"Many of the activities that OT promotes for weight loss are also good for brain health, so who knows maybe they’ll invite me back next year."

Dr Sabina Brennan
Dr Sabina Brennan

We asked her if it is really possible to plan for 'dementia risk reduction'?

"We all brush our teeth everyday but most of us never spare a thought for our brains," Sabina said, "Which is a bit crazy when you think about it because we need our teeth to eat, speak and smile but we need our brain for everything.

"Our brain is constantly changing and it's our behaviours and our experiences, the things that we do or don't do, that shape it and influence how well it functions and even how resilient it can be when faced with aging, injury or disease.

"The small things you do each day can make a difference to your brain health and may even reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life.

For example we know that those with better heart health who have been more physically, socially, and mentally active, who have adopted healthy eating habits, who don't smoke and who drink alcohol in moderation are less likely, on average, to develop dementia.

"As a kid you most likely started brushing your teeth every day because you knew that the time that you invest in cleaning your teeth today extends the life of your teeth, protecting against tooth decay and dental pain in the future.

"Of course even if you do everything that you are supposed to, your investment doesn’t come with an absolute guarantee, rather it reduces the risk of pain and delays the onset of decay. Still, the benefits are well worth the time invested.

"The same applies to brain health.

"Certain things we do like mental stimulation, being socially connected and even taking physical exercise can offer protection against the impact that disease, injury or ageing can have on our cognitive function (being able to pay attention, remember, plan, make decisions etc) at some point in our future.

"However, as is the case with our teeth, developing good brain health habits is not an absolute guarantee but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is definitely a worthwhile investment if you fancy holding on to important brain functions like memory and attention for as long as possible.

"After the age of 30, we lose a little brain volume each year through a process called ‘atrophy’ or wasting. So it is important to adopt brain healthy habits to maintain your brain reserves and indeed to boost your cognitive reserves so that your brain has the best possible chance should disease or injury strike at some point in the future.

The important take-home message is that key lifestyle changes, small attitude adjustments and activities that reduce risk or offer protection can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.

Adopting a brain healthy lifestyle, is like investing in brain capital.

Looking after our heart health and being physical, mentally and social active not only helps to maintain our brain health now but also builds cognitive reserves that can be cashed in at some point in the future allowing our brain to cope with or compensate for disease, damage or declining resources.

Even young adults should consider protecting their brains now for the future. Think of it like a pension fund. Healthy brain habits now build the brain’s cognitive reserve. It’s a lodgement, like money in the bank for later life.

I want everyone to look after their brains as routinely as they brush their teeth each day so I’ve developed an app which is free to download 

I’d especially like our kids to get the best start in life so I’ve developed a six-week brain health programme for primary school children that includes challenges and rewards; I’m also developing programmes for workplaces and have developed a resource about brain health tailored for people with multiple sclerosis.

Everyone with a brain needs to consider brain health just as everyone with teeth needs to consider dental health.

For easy-to-understand information on brain health click here

Or download our free app and take the brain health challenge

If you are worried about memory loss or dementia these 2 minute animations may help to allay your fears

Dr Sabina Doyle launching the Hello Brain campaign, website and App
Dr Sabina Doyle launching the Hello Brain campaign, website and App

Risk Factors

  • Type two diabetes
  • Mid-life high blood pressure
  • Mid-life obesity (being underweight is an issue)
  • Smoking
  • Low levels of physical activity
  • Low levels of mental activity
  • Depression
  • Social Isolation and loneliness

Sabina’s Brain Health Hacks
Activity, attitude and simple lifestyle changes can boost your brain health and may even act as a buffer against disease and decline in brain function?

1. Activity (physical, social and mental)

  • Get physically active
  • Stay Social Engaged
  • Challenge your brain

2. Adjust your Attitude

  • Keep Smiling
  • Manage Stress
  • Be Present in the moment

3. Adopt a healthy lifestyle

  • Love your heart
  • Cherish Sleep
  • Choose Balance (work/play. challenge/relaxation, exercise/rest)