Lifestyle changes at various stages in life could be key to battling dementia, a report has suggested
Studies carried out as part of a dementia prevention commission by medical journal The Lancet show that there are a number of ‘risk factors’ to target in a bit to tackle the disease. This includes staying in education until over the age of 15, reducing hearing loss between the ages of 45 and 65 and combating inactivity in later life.
“Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families and, in doing so, will transform the future of society,” said lead author Professor Gill Livingston from University College London.
“Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before, with risk factors for developing the disease occurring throughout life, not just old age.
“We believe that a broader approach to prevention of dementia which reflects these changing risk factors will benefit our ageing societies and help prevent the rising number of dementia cases globally.”
It is estimated that there are around 47 million people living with dementia around the world. This figure is set to almost triple to 131 million by 2050. As well as changes to education, the fight against hearing loss and lack of movement, the report highlights the need to target high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, depression, social isolation and diabetes in a bid to challenge these figures.
The study estimates that removing these factors could prevent more than one in three cases of dementia (35 per cent). Comparatively, finding a way to target the major genetic risk factor would prevent less than one in ten cases (seven per cent).
The key component in fighting the onset of dementia is the building up of cognitive reserve, something which can be achieved through reducing hearing loss or engaging in stimulating activity.
At the same time, this reserve is reduced when people leave school at an earlier age – hence the study’s recommendation of remaining in education until at least 15. And naturally, when it comes to issues such as smoking, stopping the practice means that the brain is less exposed to neurotoxins, which can affect brain health.
Co-author Professor Lon Schneider, from Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, reiterated the fact that it is important to focus on the risk-reducing factors before things are too late. He added, however, that it is also important to ensure those at risk of developing dementia, or those who are already suffering from it, receive the necessary support.
“Society must engage in ways to reduce dementia risk throughout life, and improve the care and treatment for those with the disease,” he said. “This includes providing safe and effective social and healthcare interventions in order to integrate people with dementia within their communities.
“Hopefully this will also ensure that people with dementia, their families and caregivers, encounter a society that accepts and supports them.”
The authors noted the limitations within their estimates, given that they did not take everything into account, including diet and alcohol intake. They also did not look at the impact of the risk factors on other stages in life – for example, lifelong learning beyond childhood could also prove to be beneficial. In any case, they reiterated the need to focus on such an important issue, particularly given the increase in the number of cases of dementia and the type of people who suffer from the disease.
“Dementia selectively affects the old and frail, women, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged,”
Professor Martin King, from King’s College London, said. “It dims the voices of those living with the condition, just when they most need to be heard.”
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