Two news items have crossed my desk today, and both, in their different ways, give the same message. The message is that knowing more about dementia could make a big difference to your quality of life.

The first was a BBC report on a survey carried out by another dementia charity. This suggested that half of UK adults couldn’t name any risk factors for dementia. Those who could name the full set of seven risks or protective strategies were just 1% of the 2,300 people questioned.

This immediately raises the likelihood that more people will develop dementia than is strictly necessary. If the same people took all the available advice on looking after their hearts, on the other hand, fewer would develop the condition as early or, perhaps, at all.

Avoiding smoking and binge drinking, or taking regular exercise that leaves you slightly out of breath could be very beneficial. Learning something new in retirement, such as a language you know only at a basic level or not at all, could help equip the brain to cope with losses in other areas.

The other article was in the New York Times and concerned strategies that loosely come under the heading of ‘living well with dementia’. The retired man in Wales, who is the example at the beginning and end of the item, seems to have entered a spiral where diminished ability to perform certain tasks knocked his confidence and that loss of confidence then further reduced his ability. By learning how to perform these tasks in a different way, he was better able to cope and regained confidence. “My fear is gone,” he says.

We tend to assume that dementia entails the steady loss of all we have learned, but it is possible and also beneficial to learn new things while living with the condition. The brain retains more of its capacity to function than we give it credit for.

Both of these news items reflect the progress that dementia research has made since the 1980s. We know more about the causes of dementia, for example, so can start to pinpoint some of the lifestyle factors that could play a part. We know more about the progression of different dementias and can therefore consider ways to reduce their impact and help people cope.

While this isn’t the equivalent of the pill that halts dementia in its tracks, it’s invaluable progress that could improve the lives of millions of people.

BRACE has been funding research for over 30 years. This has included investigation of the causes of dementia and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. We increasingly see it as part of our role to ensure that the general public is made aware of what medical science has learned and to be able to benefit from it. Using our close connections with some of the finest dementia scientists and clinicians, we are gradually building a series of public meetings and online resources to help people apply this knowledge to their own lives.

If you happen to live near Frome or Honiton, you would be very welcome to come to one of our first two such public meetings this year.