4 in 10 Dementia Cases Worldwide May Be Preventable Through 12 Lifestyle Changes: Report
New research says that 40 percent of the cases of young-onset and later-life dementia across the world could, potentially, be delayed, or prevented entirely, by making several lifestyle changes.
Dementia is an umbrella term that includes deterioration of memory and other cognitive abilities in a way that can not only impair daily life, and independent function, but also, behavior, feelings and relationships. According to the WHO, there are there are nearly 10 million new cases every year, making it one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent of all dementia cases, followed by Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia, among others.
The 2020 Report by The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care found that excessive drinking, exposure to air pollution, and traumatic brain injuries, put one at a higher risk of dementia. The 2017 report by the commission had already identified nine risk factors: lack of education in childhood, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, and infrequent social contact. Now, with the three new factors added to the list, the commission has recommended public health initiatives that seek to curb excessive drinking, smoking, and exposure to second-hand smoke. In addition, the study also urges policy-makers to expedite efforts to improve air quality, especially in areas with higher levels of pollution.
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Around 50 million people live with dementia worldwide, and the number is expected to reach 152 million by 2050 — currently, around two-thirds of people with dementia live in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). “Our report shows that it is within the power of policy-makers and individuals to prevent and delay a significant proportion of dementia, with opportunities to make an impact at each stage of a person’s life,” Gill Livingston, Professor of Psychiatry at University College London, and the lead author of the The Lancet report, said.
However, because most of the data analyzed by the researchers in The Lancet-report is from high-income countries (HICs), the authors suspect that risks might differ in other countries, and consequently, interventions may need to be modified according to different cultures and environments. But, given that the risk of dementia looms larger over LMICs, in the absence of deeper, culture-specific research, at the moment, LMICs could begin incorporating the findings of the present research into their policies to minimize the risk. “Interventions are likely to have the biggest impact on those who are disproportionately affected by dementia risk factors, like those in [LMICs], and vulnerable populations, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities,” Professor Livingston said.
“The crucial component is that in the absence of treatments that delay or postpone dementia, reducing everyone’s risk is the best method to slow the increasing numbers of people with dementia that we would see due to population ageing,” Fiona Matthews, Professor of Epidemiology at Newcastle University, who was not involved in the report, told The Guardian. She added, however, that while we must certainly endeavor to reduce these risk factors, both personally and as a society, this focus on lifestyle changes should also not make people feel that they are to blame if they develop dementia.