One-third of dementia cases worldwide might be prevented by paying attention to nine risk factors throughout life, researchers say.
These measures include reducing the following nine risk factors:
- Staying in school until you're at least over the age of 15
- Reducing hearing loss
- Reducing obesity in mid-life (ages 45 to 65)
- Reducing high blood pressure in mid-life (ages 45 to 65)
- Reducing smoking
- Reducing depression in later life (65 and older)
- Reducing physical inactivity in later life (65 and older)
- Reducing social isolation in later life (65 and older)
- Reducing diabetes in later life (65 and older)
Taking care of these nine risk factors would possibly prevent 35% of dementia cases, the study findings suggested. In comparison, targeting the major genetic risk factor – known as ApoE – would prevent less than one in 10 dementia cases (7%), the study authors said.
According to the study, the three factors that could potentially make the biggest difference in preventing dementia are:
- Staying in school (which would reduce dementia cases by 8%)
- Reducing hearing loss in mid-life (9% fewer cases)
- Stopping smoking later in life (5% fewer dementia cases)
The findings from 24 international experts were released by The Lancet medical journal at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London, England.
Rising prevalence of dementia
About 47 million people worldwide have dementia. That number is expected to nearly triple to 131 million by 2050, the researchers said. In South Africa alone, the prevalence for dementia is 6% in adults older than 65, according to research done by the University of the Free State (UFS).
"Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families, and in doing so, will transform the future of society," report lead author Gill Livingston, a professor at University College London, said in a journal news release.
Early development of dementia
Dementia is usually diagnosed later in life. But brain changes related to dementia generally start to develop years before symptoms become apparent, she noted.
"We believe that a broader approach to prevention of dementia which reflects these changing risk factors will benefit our ageing societies and help to prevent the rising number of dementia cases globally," Livingston said.
Study co-author Dr Lon Schneider is a professor at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. "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 health-care 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," Schneider said.
Symptoms of dementia
Causes of dementia