Press release

Brain Awareness Week: It’s never too late (or early) to start looking after your brain

Published: 8 March 2024

Updated: 12 March 2024


HSE outlines the 5 steps you can take to reduce the risk of dementia

  • Over 64,000 people living with dementia in Ireland today
  • Numbers expected to more than double to over 150,000 by 2045

Being physically active, having a healthy diet and keeping up social interaction can all reduce your risk of dementia. Marking International Brain Awareness Week (11 – 17 March 2024), the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign encourages people across the country to take steps to protect their brain health and reduce their risk of dementia.

Dr Seán O’Dowd, Consultant Neurologist, Tallaght University Hospital and Clinical Lead of the HSE’s National Dementia Office explains what people can do to minimise their dementia risk: “We often take our brains for granted and don’t take the time to think about how wonderful they are, and just why it is so important to look after them. Our brains are core to our wellbeing and quality of life.

“This year’s Brain Awareness Week theme, ‘The Changing Brain’ is really exciting, as it reminds us of our brain’s ability to change and adapt. This means that it is never too late, or too early to start looking after our brains, and that there are things we can do to build reserve in our brain, protect it from 'wear and tear' and to potentially decrease our risk of developing dementia.”

A Lancet study in 2020 identified 12 modifiable risk factors that could account for 40% of dementias worldwide and the HSE is highlighting a number of these factors, creating awareness of the link with dementia and how people in their midlife can reduce their risk.

According to a nationally-representative survey* undertaken by the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign in 2021, many people continue to be unaware of some of the risk factors for dementia. The survey found just 44% of people agreed that not doing physical exercise increases your risk and 48% agreed that if you eat a healthy diet you are less likely to experience dementia.

5 steps to Brain Health:

Step 1. Be a good sport

Physical activity is very important for brain health. Move your body and be active in a way that you enjoy – any physical activity is good physical activity. Whether that’s going for a brisk walk or doing some gardening or housework, this all counts when it comes to boosting brain health. Aim for 2 hours 30 minutes a week if you can.  

Step 2. Eat well

Eating a wide variety of nourishing foods provides the energy and nutrients you need to keep your brain healthy. A balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, and fish, and that is low in salt and sugar, is a good starting point.

Step 3. No Pressure!
Healthy adults above 40 years of age should have their blood pressure (BP) checked annually to see if it is within the healthy range. There are many ways to decrease blood pressure such as through exercise, healthy eating, reducing salt intake, getting enough sleep, managing stress levels, limiting alcohol and, of course, by taking medication if prescribed.

Step 4. Quit While You’re Ahead!
Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of developing dementia as well as your risk of developing cancers and heart disease. Stop smoking for 28 days and you’re five times more likely to stop for good. Find out about free face-to-face support and nicotine replacement therapies. Visit www.quit.ie, text Quit to 50100, or call the QUITline on 1800 201 203.

Step 5. Stay Social

Keeping socially engaged helps you to stay mentally sharp. Even just ten minutes of social interaction can greatly increase your brain performance, so just calling a friend or family member for a quick chat can improve your brain health. We’re encouraging individuals, businesses and organisations to take small actions and join the Dementia Inclusive Community. Free awareness training, guides and promotional materials at www.understandtogether.ie/get-involved.

If you or a loved one are worried about memory difficulties, contact your GP. You can also find details for your local Dementia Advisor using the service finder at www.understandtogether.ie or call the national helpline provided by The Alzheimer Society of Ireland on Freephone 1800 341 341 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm).


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