Primary prevention of dementia: from modifiable risk factors to a public brain health agenda?



With large numbers of people affected, no treatment in sight and continuing demographic change, the prevention of dementia is becoming a central public health issue.


We conducted a systematic meta-review including systematic reviews and meta-analyses of longitudinal observational studies on modifiable risk and protective factors for dementia published over the last 5 years.


Compelling evidence on a number of modifiable risk factors, mostly lifestyle factors, is available from longitudinal observational studies to inform primary preventive efforts.


Evidence stemming from preventive RCTs is limited. However, multi-domain interventions addressing a variety of risk factors at once seem promising with regard to high-risk individuals (selective preventive approach). However, we argue that it is time to move forward and discuss a public brain health agenda as a universal preventive approach. Based on a risk reduction strategy, the public brain health agenda suggests the following ten key actions: (1) increase physical activity, (2) foster social integration, (3) improve education and foster lifelong learning, (4) provide mentally stimulating workplaces, (5) foster a cognitively active lifestyle, (6) propose a healthy Mediterranean-like diet, (7) reduce alcohol consumption, (8) stop smoking, (9) prevent, diagnose and treat chronic conditions, and (10) reduce anticholinergic medication in the elderly.

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This paper was supported by a grant from the Hans and Ilse Breuer Foundation. The authors thank Elise Paul, Ph.D. for her editing of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Steffi G. Riedel-Heller.

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Hussenoeder, F.S., Riedel-Heller, S.G. Primary prevention of dementia: from modifiable risk factors to a public brain health agenda?. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 53, 1289–1301 (2018).

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  • Dementia
  • Risk factors
  • Systematic review
  • Brain health agenda
  • Prevention