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Try new foods in old age to ward off dementia


Generic picture showing a variety of food

TRYING new foods as we age could help ward off dementia, according to academic research.

Dr Ritchie Williamson, Director of Research - Life Course, University of Bradford, said our tendency to narrow our food choices as we get older has an impact on the good bacteria which keep the brain functioning properly. 

He said: "We often see older people sticking to the same narrow choice of foods. They know what they like and often eat the same meals every week. They also tend to eat smaller portions.

"But this has an effect on the gut-brain axis. Having a wide variety of microbiota - or bacteria - in the gut not only helps with our digestion, but also has a beneficial effect on the brain. They provide signals and compounds which stimulate cells in the brain. 

"When you narrow the variety of food you eat, you narrow the variety of microbiota, limiting that stimulation to the brain. Keeping your brain stimulated is a key factor in reducing a person’s risk of dementia."

Head of Research - The Life Centre, University of Bradford

Pictured above: Dr Ritchie Williamson

Dr Williamson will be delivering a talk, ‘Does how you live determine whether you get dementia?’ at Bradford’s Pint of Science festival on Monday, 22 May. He will address how different aspects of our lives, from our early to our later years, can influence our chances of developing dementia. 

He said: "There are modifiable factors which we can address to reduce our risk. Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure are all risk factors, but it’s not enough to address these issues when they become a problem. 

"If a middle aged person develops Type 2 Diabetes and has been overweight for a long time, then that is years of bad practice to overcome. To reduce our risk, we need to avoid developing those conditions in the first place. 

"Stopping smoking will also reduce the risk of developing dementia. 

"Some factors are less easy to change, for example, research shows exposure to air pollution is associated with increased risk of dementia, but it isn’t always possible for people to move to less polluted areas.

"Other factors can’t be changed, for example there is a link with age-related hearing loss and dementia."

Dementia is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the UK. 

Dr Williamson added: "The biggest gift you can give someone is a hobby, preferably something social. Learning a new skill helps rewire the brain and doing something social helps to prevent depression, which is another risk factor for dementia. The key is staying busy, both physically and mentally, so finding a hobby which gives you both is ideal."

  • Pint of Science is a worldwide festival bringing engaging science talks to the public in local pubs, cafes and venues. It runs from May 22 to May 24, from 7pm to 9.30pm at Bradford’s BrewDog, Cafe Liza and Theatre in the Mill. Tickets cost £5. For more information and to book your place go to