World Alzheimer’s Day: can we reduce dementia risk?

Older woman with Alzheimer's in a chair

Image courtesy of Flickr user Vince Alongi using a Creative Commons license

By Steven McGinty

On the 21st September, Alzheimer’s organisations across the world will be carrying out events to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia. The event, a key part of World Alzheimer’s Month, was launched by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) in 1994, with the aim of highlighting the tremendous work carried out by Alzheimer’s organisations.

Each year, a new theme is selected for World Alzheimer’s Month, and this year the focus will be on how we can reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. In support of this event, I’ve decided to look at some of the statistics on dementia, as well as review the latest evidence on reducing the risks.

The Alzheimer’s Society suggests that 800,000 people have dementia in the UK, with this figure expected to rise to over one million by 2021. Two thirds of all dementia suffers are women, and one third of those over 95 have dementia. The black, minority, and ethnic communities (BME) make up just over 3% of all dementia suffers, with a total of 25,000 people.  The total number of deaths which can be attributed to dementia is approximately 60,000 per year. However, if dementia could be delayed by five years, it is believed that this figure could be halved.

Dementia sufferers are supported by over 670,000 carers, saving the UK government £8 billion per year in care costs. Yet, the total cost of dementia is still an estimated £23 billion annually. It is because of this financial pressure, that the government and society must look at ways of delaying the development of dementia.

The International Longevity Centre has identified some of the main risk factors associated with developing dementia:

  • Diabetes
  • Untreated hypertension
  • Midlife obesity
  • Depression
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Cognitive inactivity or low educational attainment

The risk factors show that there is certainly a link between dementia and unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, interventions that target unhealthy behaviour may prove to be the most effective way of preventing dementia. For instance, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption has been said to reduce the risks. Similarly, studies have shown that being physically active is associated with decreased levels of cognitive decline and dementia.

Alongside lifestyle, an individual’s cognitive activity plays a role. Interestingly, Middleton and Yaffe claim that educational achievement is the most established risk indicator in dementia, suggesting that those with higher levels of education will have lower levels of dementia. Therefore, some may argue that policies aimed at improving educational outcomes are an important part of tackling dementia.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that as our population ages, more of us will develop dementia. In these cases, it is important that people are diagnosed early, so that sufferers and their families can be supported and given access to the services they need. It may also mean that treatments that have been shown to slow the progression of dementia, such as cognitive stimulation therapy (CST), are an option for people.

Further Reading

Back in March, we blogged about recent research on improving dementia care.

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles, case studies and evaluations on health and social care.

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