Dementia shouldn’t be seen as an inevitable part of ageing, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, in new guidelines designed to help us reduce the risks.
A huge review of existing evidence found age was the strongest risk factor for dementia, but other factors we can control are also at play.
In an effort to reduce the number of people suffering from dementia, the WHO has shared 12 risk factors, which range from smoking and inactivity to social isolation.
The condition affects 50 million people worldwide, and costs $818bn (£632bn) annually to treat. Diagnoses are likely to triple by 2050, the WHO warned.
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According to the report, the 12 risk factors known to increase a person’s risk of dementia are:
Harmful use of alcohol
High blood pressure
Many of these can be tackled with lifestyle changes – including getting active, reducing alcohol consumption, and improving your wellbeing – and some are interconnected, such as physical inactivity increasing our risk of health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity.
However, while some factors indicated a strong link with dementia – for example depression or hearing loss – there was insufficient evidence to prove that treatment (such as antidepressants or hearing aids) would prevent or slow the disease.
The WHO suggested the adoption of a Mediterranean diet, which was shown to have the strongest positive link – encouraging people to eat 400g of fruit and vegetables a day, less than 10% of energy intake from sugar, and less than 30% from fat.
“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented.
“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time – that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”
While quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and completing exercise might reduce your likelihood of dementia, Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, pointed out some people will still be diagnosed.
“Sadly, there will always be individuals who address many or all of these risk factors and still develop dementia,” she said. “Genetic predisposition plays an important role in many people’s risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s, and while we cannot change the genes we inherit, taking the steps outlined in this report can still help to stack the odds in our favour.”