Last year there was exciting evidence from the Lancet Commission on Dementia and National Institute of Ageing in USA that controlling cardiovascular risk factors could reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life by as much as 35%.

This year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago held this July, further evidence showed that a more intensive reduction in blood pressure could reduce the likelihood of dementia. This programme compared the emergence of cognitive decline to MCI or dementia in a group whose blood pressure was reduced to 120. They were compared to a similar group whose systolic blood pressure was reduced to 140 (the upper limit of what we would accept in the UK for non-diabetics).Those whose blood pressure was controlled more rigorously down to 120  showed a lower rate of cognitive decline after several years. So the message of “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain” remains the main area of influence that we can use to reduce our personal risk.

At the same conference there was also work presented that reinforced ideas that improving sleep especially in those with sleep apnoea may also be helpful, that different types of gut bacteria are somehow connected to dementia and might form part of a screening tool in the future, but no definitive advice on diet yet.

Last year the news that midlife hearing loss was associated with dementia was the surprise finding. This year several studies in women showed that having more than 3 children and spending a longer time in a pregnant state reduces the risk of subsequent dementia, whereas a natural early menopause below the age of 45 increases the risk. These are areas that we are unlikely to be able to change when we get to the age at which most of us start to worry about dementia but they do raise the possibility that more intensive prevention or disease modifying treatments may be targeted at specific groups in the future.

Personally as the parent of 6 children I never thought that this would be a protective factor, in fact I would have almost predicted the opposite. So perhaps they didn’t raise my blood pressure as much as I thought at the time!

- Dr Judy Haworth is a dementia specialist doctor at Southmead Hospital, Bristol