Eat well, exercise more: New global guidelines to reduce risk of dementia

Maricruz Casares
May 15, 2019

"In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple", WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a Tuesday press release.

Tens of thousands of people in Ireland are now living with dementia. "Many people have the opportunity to substantially reduce their risk" by using these methods, said Tara Spires-Jones, a professor at the U.K. Dementia Research Institute.

But it stressed that "while age is the strongest known risk factor for cognitive decline, dementia is not a natural or inevitable outcome of ageing".

The health body has published its first guidelines to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia - a condition that affects nearly 350,000 Australians and 50 million people around the world.

Many health conditions and behaviours affect the odds of developing it, and research suggests that a third of cases are preventable, said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association, which has published similar advice.

Medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity also played a role in the development of cognitive decline and full-blown dementia.

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Eating well, and possibly following a Mediterranean-style diet, may help prevent dementia, the guidelines say.

"While there is no curative treatment for dementia, the proactive management of modifiable risk factors can delay or slow onset or progression of the disease", WHO Assistant Director General Ren Minghui wrote in the report.

"People should be looking for these nutrients through food. not through supplements", Carrillo agreed. These can be considered for people with normal capacities or mild impairment, but there's low to very low evidence of benefit.

While loneliness is linked to dementia, there was insufficient evidence to recommend "social activity" to avoid the risk - but the guidelines nevertheless prescribed "social participation and social support" for good health and wellbeing.

According to World Health Organization spokesperson Neerja Chowdhary, the study did not take into account the effect of smoking marijuana or environmental factors on the risk of dementia, although there is some evidence that poor sleep and pollution may also be linked to dementia.

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