In Depth

What is dementia and how can it be prevented?

Healthy lifestyle may cut risk regardless of genes, finds new study

A healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of dementia, even for those with a genetic predisposition to the disease, according to researchers.

The team, led by Professor David Llewellyn, of Exeter University, found that a healthy lifestyle was “linked to about a 30% lower risk of dementia compared with an unhealthy lifestyle, regardless of a high or low genetic predisposition”, reports The Guardian.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Llewellyn and his colleagues said they had studied data from a wider research projected called the UK Biobank, which involves around 200,000 people aged 60 or older, with European ancestry, who did not have cognitive problems at the outset.

Professor Gill Livingston, an expert on dementia prevention at University College London, who had no involvement in the study, said: “This is a very important paper, with a clear message that healthy lifestyle reduces dementia risk no matter what your genes are.”

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce your ability to perform everyday activities.

Alzheimer’s disease “accounts for 60 to 80 per cent of cases while Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type”, says the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Recent figures suggest there are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and it is the leading cause of death for women in England,” says The Guardian.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization predicts that the current numbers are likely to triple to 131 million by 2050.

Is dementia treatable?

Most types of dementia cannot be cured and will gradually cause more severe problems.

However, there are exceptions: dementia caused by vitamin and thyroid hormone deficiencies, for example, can be treated with supplements.

Some causes can be treated surgically while others can be helped through behavioural remedies such as “cognitive stimulation and reality orientation therapy”, says the NHS.

Perhaps the most important type of treatment for anyone with dementia is the care and support they receive from healthcare professionals, family and friends.

Local authorities offer a range of services to help both sufferers and those close to them.

Ultimately, “the path to effective new treatments for dementia is through increased research funding and increased participation in clinical studies”, says the Alzheimer’s Association.

How can dementia be prevented?

Research published in The Lancet and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2017, found that there are nine lifestyle changes that can have a dramatic decrease on the chances of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

They are:

  • Staying active and exercising regularly
  • Avoiding obesity
  • Dealing with hearing loss in middle age
  • Treat high blood pressure from an early age
  • Staying in education beyond the age of 15
  • Avoiding or treating diabetes
  • Maintaining a strong social support network and avoiding periods of isolation
  • Seeking treatment for depression
  • Avoiding or giving up smoking

However, Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, warned at the time that “not all of the nine risk factors identified are easily modifiable”.

He added: “Factors like poor education and social isolation are incredibly challenging to address, but there are easier wins, particularly cardiovascular factors like lowering blood pressure and smoking cessation.”

Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that alongside the lifestyle changes, there was “a growing realisation that events and experiences throughout life can impact the brain decades later and researchers must take a whole lifespan approach to understanding brain health in later life”.

Recommended

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and who is most at risk
A Covid patient is wheeled into hospital
Fact file

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and who is most at risk

Fact check: does a pint a day really keep the doctor away?
binge drinking
In Depth

Fact check: does a pint a day really keep the doctor away?

Blair’s hair: Brad Pitt or Gandalf?
Tony Blair
In Brief

Blair’s hair: Brad Pitt or Gandalf?

‘Voters like a spot of island nation-state jingoism’
French fishing boats protest in St Helier harbour, Jersey
Instant Opinion

‘Voters like a spot of island nation-state jingoism’

Popular articles

London mayoral race 2021: who will win?
Night Tube Sadiq Khan
In Depth

London mayoral race 2021: who will win?

Laurence Fox to Count Binface: the most colourful London mayor candidates
Count Binface
Behind the scenes

Laurence Fox to Count Binface: the most colourful London mayor candidates

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 7 May 2021
10 Downing Street
Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 7 May 2021