9 lifestyle changes may reduce dementia by one-third worldwide

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9 lifestyle changes may reduce dementia by one-third worldwide

With some basic lifestyle changes including improving education during childhood, up to one-third of dementia cases could possibly be prevented.   In a new study, nine lifestyle factors have been identified that could be damaging the brain and the earlier in life they are addressed, the less likely dementia may develop.

Dementia worldwide is becoming more and more of a problem.  Currently 47 million people around the globe have some form of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.  This number is expected to almost triple ballooning to 131 million by 2050.  The healthcare costs associated with this condition are enormous with an estimated $818 billion price tag in 2015 alone. 

However, a new study published in The Lancet and conducted by the first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care, brought together 24 international experts to review existing dementia research and to provide recommendations for treating and preventing the devastating condition.

The purpose of bringing together this group of experts was to address the growing challenge of dementia which is fast becoming a major threat to people’s health and medical care in the 21st century.  Dementia is usually diagnosed later in life but brain changes related to dementia generally start to develop years before symptoms become apparent. Since there are no known drug treatments at this time to prevent or cure dementia, the commission wanted to look at what could be done to intervene or prevent dementia with a non-drug approach beginning much earlier – beginning as far back as childhood - of various factors that may be affecting the likelihood of someone developing dementia over the course of their lifetime. 

Much of the focus on preventing or curing dementia has been on developing new medications.  So far, no medication has been discovered that prevents or cures the disease.  In this study, the experts put more of their attention and focus on preventative approaches one can do over their lifetime helping to reduce their overall incidence of developing dementia.

What the experts identified were nine risk factors associated with up to two-thirds of all cases of dementia and if embraced by everyone, could have the potential of preventing 35% of dementia cases.  In comparison, targeting the major genetic risk factor – known as ApoE – would prevent less than one in 10 dementia cases or only 7%. 

The 9 lifestyle changes each of us can do starting today to reduce our chance of developing a form of dementia are as follows: 

1.  Increasing education early in life – The report estimated that the total number of dementia cases could be reduced by 8% if all people worldwide continued their education until past the age of 15.   It is believed that education and other mentally stimulating tasks help the brain strengthen its networks continuing to function at a higher level.

2.  Reducing hearing loss in mid-life – This could reduce the number of dementia cases by 9% if all people were treated.  It is believed that hearing loss is likely to lead to social isolation reducing the chance of interactions and conversations with others. 

3.  Quitting smoking – It is estimated the number of dementia cases worldwide could be reduced by 5% if all people quit smoking.  When neurotoxins from smoking are reduced, this improves heart health which in turn improves brain health.

4, 5 and 6 - Reach a healthy body weight, treat hypertension and treat type 2 diabetes – These three risk factors are somewhat interlinked as they often go hand-in-hand.  The report used population attributable fractions (PAFs) which are an estimate of the proportion of cases of a certain outcome (in this case dementia) that could be avoided if exposed to the risk factor.  However, each of these three factors had PAFs lower than 5%, with hypertension contributing the greatest risk of the three:  hypertension – 2%; type 2 diabetes – 1.2%; and obesity – 0.8%.

7.  Reduce depression – It is believed that depressive symptoms increase the risk of dementia due to its effect on stress hormones and hippocampal volume.  It was found to be responsible for 4% of the risk of developing dementia.

8.  Increase physical activity – A lack of physical activity was shown to be responsible for 2.6% of the risk of dementia.  Adults who do not exercise are less likely to maintain higher levels of cognition than those who do engage in physical activity.

9.  Prevent social isolation – It is unclear whether social isolation is a result of dementia but it is known to increase the risk of hypertension, heart conditions, and depression.  It was found to contribute to 2.3% of increasing dementia.