Columbus, OH — The World Health Organization released a new set of guidelines detailing 12 modifiable risk factors associated with the development of dementia and how to best combat it as people age. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities. Globally, dementia affects 50 million people and 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year. The annual economic burden of caring for patients with dementia is set to reach $2 trillion in the next decade. Countless efforts have been made to understand, combat and cure the diseases and disorders that fall under the umbrella of dementia, and these new guidelines promote healthy habits early on in life to help stifle the influx of new cases. Research shows that almost one-third of all cases are preventable, and the WHO guidelines lay out how to help position people for the best chance of avoiding the diagnosis.
While the WHO report is much more in depth, the theme is clear. Living a healthier lifestyle will help you retain cognitive function later in life. Since we still don’t know the direct cause of the conditions that fall under the classification of dementia, we’re left to safeguard against broader cognitive decline. So, for now, a healthier diet and better exercise habits are among the best things we can do.
The report identifies 12 specific modifiable risk factors of dementia and provides advice on how to prevent or manage them. They also listed whether they felt there was enough strong evidence that addressing each risk factor could help prevent dementia. The 12 risks included in the report are:
- Low levels of physical activity
- A poor diet
- Alcohol misuse
- Insufficient or impaired cognitive reserve (the brain's ability to compensate for neural problems)
- Lack of social activity
- Unhealthy weight gain
- Dyslipidemia (unhealthy cholesterol levels)
- Hearing loss
Why This Matters —
The mixture of mental, physical and behavioral factors listed by the WHO highlights how much we still don’t know about dementia and related diseases. While there are efforts to find a cure and others to find treatments for existing patients, we may not see that happen soon. There are some countries taking direct aim at dementia. For example, Japan recently announced they hope to decrease dementia cases in people over 70 years old by 6% in the next six years. In the meantime, we are left to take as many precautions as possible to help reduce the risk. The WHO guidelines are a step in the right direction, and something everyone can do regardless of where they are. Additionally, many of the risk factors for dementia are shared by other non-communicable diseases and can be integrated into existing programs that focus on smoking cessation, nutrition, and reduction of cardiovascular disease.