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Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent Dementia Cases
2017-07-21 17:02:26
Oliver Smith

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Over one-third of dementia cases may very well be avoidable via lifestyle changes related to aspects as disparate as blood pressure, education, hearing and exercise according to a newly published report.About 45 million people in the world were previously believed to be enduring dementia in 2015 and costing their respective economies an approximate, collective $818 billion for treatment and care services of various sorts.

Those figures are continuing to increase.Collectively in Wales and England, reported estimates are that, by 2040, as many as 1.2 million citizens will be enduring dementia-affected lifestyles.This will represent an increase of 57 percent from 2016, and this statistical speculation is expected to stem from people simply living longer than they once did.A new report on dementia care, intervention and prevention from the Lancet Commission, however, emphasizes that getting older does not make dementia a requisite phase of life and that people can make lifestyle choices that hedge against the likelihood of dementia onset.

“There are a lot of things that individuals can do, and there are a lot of things that public health and policy can do, to reduce the numbers of people developing dementia,” according to Gill Livingston, a co-author of the aforementioned report and a University College London psychiatry professor with a concentration on senior citizens.

When it comes to social activities and exercise, among a variety of other contributors, experts remain uncertain about what the best way to reduce dementia risk actually is, but Livingston emphasizes that people take the many steps that experts recommend, those that have been consistently theorized to hold correlations to psychological health. “We expect it to be a long-term change that will be needed for exercise; joining a gym for two weeks is probably not going to do it,” said Livingston.

Another co-author of the report, Clive Ballard—a University of Exeter medical school professor of age-related illnesses—supplements Livingston’s take with evidence that implies it behooves people to trend more in the direction of a Mediterranean diet, monitor their blood pressures and maintain healthy bodyweight levels.Nicola Davis is the host of The Guardian’s “Science Weekly” podcast with a background in health, and she summed up nine lifestyle factors that the report linked to increases in the risk of dementia susceptibility.

“The results reveal that as many as 35% of dementia cases could, at least in theory, be prevented, with 9% linked to midlife hearing loss, 8% to leaving education before secondary school, 5% to smoking in later life and 4% to later life depression.Social isolation, later life diabetes, midlife high blood pressure, midlife obesity and lack of exercise in later life also contributed to potentially avoidable cases of dementia,” Davis extrapolates from the report.

“By contrast, 7% of cases would be prevented if a solution to the leading genetic risk factor for dementia were found,” she adds.The authors of the report claim that their findings point to the significance of behavior and health throughout the duration of one’s life in relation to the risk of developing dementia in old age; however, they concede that the aforementioned estimate—that a third of dementia cases might be preventable—is a best-case scenario.Davis explains it by saying that the figures therein are “based on a number of assumptions, including that each factor could be completely tackled.”

Ballard says, “I think the realistic figure is probably nearer 5%,” but he maintains that even mitigation to the tune of five percent yields as many as 5,000 fewer cases per year in the U.K.alone.The authors also admit that some of these reported factors suggest that it remains unclear whether or not interventions can measurably mitigate the risk of dementia or especially of its onset in golden years.Debate on the question of whether or not factors like social isolation and depression increase vulnerability for dementia remain pervasive, and the same can be said of a related, all-too-common question of whether or not the neurological shifts that yield dementia might hold causal relationships with said factors.

Photo by: Burim / Wikimedia commons

“There is lots of evidence that depression is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.What we don’t know is whether treating depression better prevents it,” Ballard explained.Regardless, Newcastle University epidemiology professor, Fiona Matthews, who had no involvement in the report or its research, commented that interventions may still be quite valuable as a treatment tool for social isolation and depression.

“If we could actually resolve some of that issue, even if it is not 100% causal, it is likely we might be able to slow [dementia] progression—even if [a person] is on a pathway to developing dementia already,” said Matthews.She also appraised the report, though, and found that it showed the majority of dementia cases were not connected to prospectively preventable factors that were flagged.On the other hand, she said that these proposed areas for intervention might present all sorts of health benefits besides just lowering the risk of dementia.


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