More than one third of the 50 million people worldwide living with dementia may have been able to prevent it by addressing certain lifestyle factors, according to a new report released Thursday. That number is expected to almost triple to 131 million by 2050, the researchers said.
"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", said co-author Gill Livingston, professor of psychiatry of older people at University College London.
"Our results suggest that around 35 percent of dementia is attributable to a combination of the following nine risk factors: education to a maximum of age 11-12 years, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity, hearing loss, late-life depression, diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking, and social isolation", the study said. "But we can't lose sight of the real major advances we've already made in treating dementia, including preventive approaches". They also conferred some benefit in improving cognition. "The goal of the commission was therefore to address it by consolidating the huge strides and emerging knowledge as to what we should do to prevent dementia and intervene and care for people with dementia".
As well as being published in The Lancet, the findings of the review were presented earlier today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2017 in London.
The report authors highlighted that not completing secondary education in early life may raise dementia risk by reducing cognitive reserve - a resilience to cognitive decline caused by the brain strengthening its networks and therefore continuing functioning in later life despite damage.
In late life, stopping smoking, treating depression, increasing physical activity, increasing social contact and managing diabetes could reduce the incidence of dementia by another 15 per cent, the researchers said. Authors mentioned that some of the risk factors, such as learning throughout one's lifetime, may be advantageous as learning progresses through all stages of life.
Analyzing the risk factors behind dementia, the team of 24 global researchers commissioned by The Lancet emphasized key lifestyle recommendations.
According to Schneider, the risk could reduce by 35 percent by modifying all nine factors.
"This includes providing safe and effective social and health care interventions in order to integrate people with dementia within their communities", Schneider said.
In midlife, the commission found that one of the most powerful - and fixable - drivers of dementia risk is hearing loss.
The commission also examined the effect of nonpharmacologic interventions for people with dementia and concluded that they had an important role in treatment, especially when trying to address agitation and aggression.
It's important to note that lifestyle interventions will not delay or prevent all dementia cases.
More research is needed to clarify exactly why and how each of these factors impacts a person's dementia risk, the researchers said.
Recent news about dementia - and about the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease - has focused heavily on a string of dashed hopes as pharmaceutical researchers shoot for a cure.