13 seemingly 'harmless' habits that can increase your risk of dementia and age your brain

Dementia is a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning
Dementia is a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

Scientists have warned that certain seemingly harmless habits could be ageing your brain prematurely, increasing your chances of developing dementia.

According to the NHS, dementia is a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. There are many different causes of dementia, and many different types.

The health experts further say: "Dementia is not only about memory loss. It can also affect the way you speak, think, feel and behave. It's also important to remember that dementia is not a natural part of ageing."

Here are 13 things that could increase your risk of dementia, reports the Mirror. The list includes some simple habits that may appear harmless.

Drinking alcohol

While some may think that only binge-drinking is harmful, it turns out that even having a little drink can have a major impact. One study, published in 2022, concluded that only two pints of beer or glasses of wine a day is able to age the brain equal to ten years. Shockingly, just a single pint can prematurely age your brain by two years.

A second research study of 40,000 Britons found that alcohol was one of the three most harmful, yet preventable risk factor for dementia - with diabetes and air pollution the other two. Dr Esther Walton, from the University of Bath, said: "Alcohol is definitely one of the most common things that ages the brain.

"People who drink tend to have older looking brains, but we don't know if that's causal - it could be that older looking brains 'make us' drink."

Missing out on enough sleep

It's common knowledge that not getting enough hours in bed can cause forgetfulness, irritability and low energy. However, the problems can become long-term, even if it doesn't feel like it. According to scientists, not getting enough sleep in the long-term has the ability to increase your risk of dementia.

A study published in Nature Communications found those who slept six hours or less a night increased their risk by 30% compared to people who got seven hours or more. According to the authors, sleep is important because it helps clear toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's from the brain.

Separate research concluded that teenagers were less efficient, flexible and resilient when they didn't get enough sleep. As well as that, they struggled to understand things, control their behaviour and regulate their emotions.

Spending too much time alone

One US study looked at the brains of healthy adults who reported feelings of loneliness. The researchers found that these individuals had elevated cortical amyloid levels - a marker used to help diagnose dementia.

Additional research has linked social isolation to early-onset dementia, when symptoms appear before turning 65. Dr Walton said: "There’s some strong evidence that loneliness relate to a faster-ageing brain."

Going to concerts

Loud noises increase your risk of hearing loss, which in turn makes you more likely to develop dementia, scientists say. There are many ways this is possible, such as listening to music through headphones, on the radio, or live in concert.

Dr Tim Beanland, of the Alzheimer's Society, urged people to protect themselves and get checked early. He said: "If you are exposed to loud noises for long periods (or have any gigs lined up for the coming months), wear ear protection when necessary.

"It’s important to get your hearing tested. You can normally book a free hearing test at your local optician or speak to your GP about being referred to an audiologist. This will show up any hearing issues and provide ways of managing them, such as using a hearing aid."

Having a cup of coffee

Some papers say that drinking coffee is associated with an older brain - although experts say there is no evidence to suggest caffeine can cause dementia. A study in Nutritional Neuroscience found heavy coffee drinkers (those who have more than six cups a day) had a 53% higher chance of being diagnosed with dementia compared with light drinkers (one to two cups per day). They also tended to have smaller amounts of total brain volume, especially in the area responsible for memory.

Missing GP appointments

Not attending routine appointments, such as getting your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked isn't good. Dr Beanland said: "We know that poor cardiovascular health is a risk factor for brain diseases such as stroke, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia and hence why, 'What’s good for the heart is good for the head'."

Not getting enough exercise

Getting regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing dementia by 28%, according to Alzheimer's Society. This includes going to the gym, getting your steps in or enjoying a morning swim.

Dr Beanland said: "Research has shown that doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. Part of this is about healthier living: physical exercise, a healthy diet and so on."

Taking part in contact sports

One study in Denmark found that there was increased risk of dementia for 10 years after a head injury in people over the age of 50. Furthermore, the risk of dementia increased with the number of head injuries received.

Another study by University of Glasgow found that professional footballers had a three and a half times higher risk of death from progressive brain injuries than the general population. They were also five times more likely to die from Alzheimer's.

Junk food

There are mixed opinions around the link between diet and brain conditions. However, it goes without saying that healthy eating is good for you, and will have a protective impact.

Dr Beanland said: "There is some evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking and getting some forms of dementia. This means adding more fruit, vegetables and cereals to your shopping basket, and eating less red meat and sugary foods."

Dr Walton added: "There’s not a lot of evidence for exercise or diet. However, diet has been shown to influence other measures of biological ageing such as epigenetic ageing."

Lack of education

While cognitive decline is something everyone goes through as they get older. Some evidence suggests that having a higher level of education reduces this - and therefore your risk of dementia.

Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: "While it’s difficult to measure the extent to which individual lifestyle factors contribute to our overall dementia risk, this study supports the idea that the education we get early in life can affect our risk of developing the condition."

Living with a stressful job

It goes without saying that too much stress isn't good for you. While some will thrive under stress, too much will disrupt your sleep, skin and mental health, it may also cause brain shrinkage.

According to Alzheimer's Society, stress affects the immune system, which is known to play a key role in the development on dementia. The hormone cortisol is released during periods of high stress, and this has been linked to anxiety, depression and dementia.

Mindless scrolling

Research from 2023 finds that we spend an average of seven hours a day staring at a screen. However, it could be a lot more.

This is causing a huge impact on our brains - and something called "digital dementia." While it isn't an official condition, it describes problems with short-term memory, forgetfulness, difficulty recalling words and trouble with multitasking brought on by technology overuse.

Another 2023 study found that more than four hours of screen time a day was associated with an increased risk of dementia. Dr Beanland, author of Mind Games, said: "It’s about mental exercise – simply put, the brain is like any other muscle: to keep it trim, you’ve got to get to the gym to help improve brain health and enhance mental agility. Activities like puzzles that stimulate the brain work in a different way, by building up a ‘cognitive reserve’ of stronger nerve pathways."


"Although by no means a harmless habit, if you smoke, you’re putting yourself at a much higher risk of developing dementia later in life," Dr Beanland said. It's estimated that smoking increases the risk of developing dementia by 30 to 50%. According to some experts, around 14% of dementia cases across the world can be put to smoking.