Health officials should run an “it’s never too late” campaign to make the public aware of lifestyle changes they could make to help stave off dementia, a new report suggests.
A number of factors can increase a person’s risk of dementia in later life and people should be encouraged to take steps to protect themselves, according to the report commissioned by Alzheimer’s Disease International, a body representing dozens of organisations from around the world.
The report authors, led by Professor Martin Prince from King’s College London, said that low education in early life, high blood pressure in midlife, and smoking and diabetes across the whole life can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.
They wrote: “There is persuasive evidence that the dementia risk for populations can be modified through reduction in tobacco use and better control and detection for hypertension and diabetes, as well as cardiovascular risk factors.
“A good mantra is ‘What is good for your heart is good for your brain’,” they added.
“A good mantra is ‘What is good for your heart is good for your brain’”
“Brain health promotion messages should be integrated in public health promotion campaigns such as anti-tobacco or non-communicable disease awareness campaigns, with the message that it’s never too late to make these changes,” the report authors said.
“If we can all enter old age with better developed, healthier brains we are likely to live longer, happier and more independent lives with a much reduced chance of developing dementia.”
A survey by healthcare provider Bupa, conducted on 8,500 people from six countries including 2,500 from the UK, also shows that many are unclear what steps they can take to reduce their risk of developing the condition, Alzheimer’s Disease International said.
Just over a sixth of people realised that social interaction with friends and family could impact on the risk. Only a quarter identified being overweight as a possible factor, and 23% said physical activity could affect the risk of developing dementia and losing their memories, the organisation said.
Commenting on the report Dr Eric Karran, director of research at charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Although there is currently no certain way to prevent dementia, this report underlines strong evidence suggesting we can lower our risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
“Over 830,000 people [are] living with dementia in the UK, and that number [is] set to increase”
Dr Eric Karran
“A large body of research has linked high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes to an increased risk of dementia, and this analysis serves as another reminder that good heart health is an important route to good brain health,” he said.
“Studies have also suggested that education in early life may help build a level of ‘cognitive reserve’, helping the brain to withstand the damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s for longer in later life,” he added.
“Importantly, this report highlights a need to understand better how to reduce the risk of dementia, which is why Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to increasing investment in this area of research,” said Dr Karran.
“With over 830,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and that number set to increase, research into prevention is a crucial component in tackling this growing crisis.”