Practice nurses and other staff at GP surgeries will soon be required to give advice on dementia risk as part of the NHS Health Check, which is offered to patients from middle age.
Public Health England has added dementia to the list of conditions to be covered by the free health check – the others being cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
“Our aim is to keep everyone as healthy as possible, for as long as possible”
The free NHS Health Check is currently offered by GPs and other healthcare professionals to adults in England aged 40-74 every five years.
It is estimated that over 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK with little understanding of how it’s possible to reduce the risk, said Public Health England.
In its announcement, the agency cited figures showing that 52% of adults named dementia as one of their top three health worries.
At the same time, 27% of people have no awareness of any of the risk factors and only 2% are aware of all the steps they can take to reduce the risk.
“Empowering people to get fit and eat healthier from age 40 is crucial”
Public health minister Steve Brine said: “Early detection and prevention are vital to the health of our nation and our programmes in this area are among the most ambitious in the world.
“Our aim is to keep everyone as healthy as possible, for as long as possible, which is why we are introducing advice on dementia prevention as part of our free health checks,” he said.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “With three out of four people in midlife saying that they would make lifestyle changes now to reduce their risk of developing dementia in future, this health check will encourage them to do so.”
With no cure, risk reduction was vital, he noted. “Dementia takes hold of the brain decades before symptoms appear, so empowering people to get fit and eat healthier from age 40 is crucial if we’re to reduce the number of people developing the condition,” he said.
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said the health check had been successful in raising patient’s awareness of the risk of heart disease.
“But few people recognise that what’s often good for the heart is also good for the brain,” she said.
“The reality is that people living with coronary heart disease are twice as likely to develop vascular dementia, and there are many things you can do to lower your risk of both,” she added.