Giving up the smokes, staying fit and stress-free as well as completing lots of crosswords could help stave off dementia, new research indicates.

The World Alzheimer Report 2014, published yesterday by Alzheimers NZ and residential care provider Bupa, examined research on risk factors linked to the development of dementia.

Carried out by an international team of academics from King's College London, University of Geneva, Columbia University and Federal University of Sao Paulo, the report identified low education early in life, high-blood pressure in mid-life, smoking and diabetes as being the most likely risk factors in developing dementia.

It also found evidence of a possible link between low levels of physical and cognitive activity and dementia.

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In New Zealand, about 50,000 people are living with dementia - a number expected to triple by 2050, according to Alzheimers NZ.

The cost of the disease was estimated to be nearly $1 billion in 2011.

Catherine Hall, executive director of Alzheimers NZ, said Kiwis could make a few simple lifestyle changes to reduce their dementia risk.

"The evidence in the report suggests that if we enter old age with better developed, healthier brains we are likely to live longer, happier and more independent lives, with a much reduced chance of developing dementia," she said.

Report author Professor Martin Prince of King's College London highlighted findings showing wealthier nations were improving in the battle against dementia.

Alzheimer's disease
• Most common form of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of cases.
• Caused by two abnormalities that stop communication between nerve cells in the brain, causing the cells to die.
• Dementia is the umbrella term used when a person experiences a gradual loss of brain function due to physical changes in the structure of their brain.
Source: Alzheimers NZ and Ministry of Health.