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Lifestyle changes could prevent dementia

More than a third of dementia cases could be avoided by increasing brain health throughout life.

A new international report says that lifestyle factors, such as smoking, physical inactivity, social isolation and hearing loss, can play a major role in increasing someone’s risk of developing dementia.

Global issue

Dementia refers to a group of symptoms caused by the gradual decline of the brain and its abilities, including problems with memory loss, language and thinking speed. It occurs mainly in people older than 65 years, making them more dependent on support from friends and family, as well as health and social care, as their condition progresses.

Globally, about 47 million people were living with dementia in 2015, and this number is projected to triple by 2050 as people continue to live longer.

Emerging knowledge

Although dementia is not an easy illness to prevent or treat, encouraging evidence on how to address risk factors and symptoms is emerging.

The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care brought together 24 international experts to make recommendations on what we should do to prevent and manage dementia, based on the best available evidence.

Lifestyle changes

The Commission looked at the benefits of building a 'cognitive reserve', which means strengthening the brain’s networks throughout life so it can continue to function in later life.

Their report revealed that lifestyle changes could help to build this reserve and contribute to preventing or delaying dementia in more than a third of cases. These include an increase in childhood education and exercise, maintaining social engagements, reducing or stopping smoking, and managing hearing loss, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

However, it is important to note that these lifestyle factors only account for about 35% of the overall risk of getting dementia, while about 65% is due to factors that cannot be controlled, such as ageing and family history.

Future benefits

Although not everyone at risk of dementia will benefit from lifestyle changes, delaying its onset for even a small percentage of people would be an enormous achievement.

Authors of the Commission's report, published in The Lancet, concluded that: “Effective dementia prevention, intervention and care could transform the future for society and vastly improve living and dying for individuals with dementia and their families.”

These findings highlight the importance of acting now to help prevent this devastating condition, which represent a global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century.

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