9 lifestyle choices to help prevent dementia

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With one in 3 cases of dementia preventable, a sweeping new report identifies modifiable factors in early, mid- and late life that make a difference in developing the disorder.

Nobody wants dementia. Yet some 47 million people worldwide have dementia; a number that is expected to increase to as many as 66 million by 2030 and up to 115 million by 2050. While Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, the term includes a wide range of symptoms pointing to a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to impinge on one’s ability to perform life’s basic tasks. It can be a devastating disease and hard for everyone involved.

But fighting this scourge might be easier than previously thought. According to a report by the first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care, modifying lifestyle factors could prevent one-third of the world’s dementia cases. Of all the holistic ways to treat a disease, nothing beats not getting it in the first place.

The commission was comprised of 24 international experts who worked together on a systematical review of existing research to provide “evidence-based recommendations for treating and preventing dementia.” They found that although it’s a disorder diagnosed in older age, it’s never too early to start working on preventing it.

"The potential magnitude of the effect on dementia of reducing these risk factors is larger than we could ever imagine the effect that current, experimental medications could have," says commission member Lon Schneider, MD, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. "Mitigating risk factors provides us a powerful way to reduce the global burden of dementia."

Presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017, the report had some profoundly positive (as far as anything can be positive, given the topic) conclusions around these risk factors.

In early life:

1. Stay in school until at least 15 years of age; continue learning through out life

In mid-life, reduce dementia risk by as much as 20 percent by:

2. Addressing hearing loss
3. Avoiding or treating hypertension
4. Avoiding obesity

In late life, reduce the incidence of dementia by another 15 percent by:

5. Stopping smoking
6. Treating depression
7. Increasing physical activity
8. Increasing social contact
9. Managing diabetes

"There’s been a great deal of focus on developing medicines to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease," Schneider says. "But we can’t lose sight of the real major advances we’ve already made in treating dementia, including preventive approaches."

And it doesn’t feel like a stretch to make other connections; most of these lifestyle factors play into mitigating risk for numerous other diseases as well. Which means, start now, and you might have a better chance of a longer life, with an alert brain to keep up with it.

© Keck Medicine of USC

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