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12 things that predispose you to dementia — WHO

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About 50 million people across the world have dementia, an umbrella term for a series of neurodegenerative conditions that cause memory loss.

However, scientists say they are still unsure exactly what causes this condition.

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But, a newly published prevention guideline from the World Health Organisation (WHO) evaluates 12 risk factors and offers advice on how to tackle the 12 things.

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These conditions can become severe and impair a person’s ability to continue their normal daily activities.

According to Alzheimer’s Association, the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects 5.8 million people in the United States alone.

WHO has on record that the high number of people living with forms of dementia has rendered dementia research a worldwide priority and that that as a result, they now have a good idea of what risk factors may contribute to its development.

Some of these factors are lifestyle-related and, as such are modifiable. Therefore, with adequate information, people may be able to learn how to adapt their lifestyles to become healthier and lower their risk of developing various health conditions, including dementia.

Earlier this week, WHO published a new set of guidelines (downloadable from its website) that seek to advise governments, policymakers and healthcare providers on how best to tackle dementia.

These guidelines review existing evidence on the most significant lifestyle-related risk factors for dementia and take each of these factors into account when issuing recommendation for prevention.

The WHO authors aim the recommendations at healthcare providers worldwide, but they hope that the guidelines will present a reliable source of information for governments and organisations too; helping them draft better prevention and care policies.

WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, has warned that in the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple, and added that “we need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia.

“The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time; that what is good for our heart is also good for our brain.”

The possible risk factors identified by the WHO team are:

Low level of physical activity, smoking, poor diet, alcohol misuse, insufficient or impaired cognitive reserve (brain’s ability to compensate for neural problems), lack of social activity, unhealthy weight gain, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia (unhealthy cholesterol levels), depression and hearing loss.

While WHO used the guidelines primarily to issue recommendations on how to address each of these potential factors, they also considered whether there is sufficient, strong evidence that tackling these risk factors can help stave off dementia.

In doing so, they found that there is moderate evidence in support of the notion that being more physically active and following a Mediterranean-style diet can play a protective role against cognitive decline. The same goes for cutting down alcohol consumption.

Currently, there is insufficient evidence that engaging in more social activities, taking antidepressants, or wearing hearing aids can reduce the risk of dementia. However, WHO emphasise that being socially involved, adequately treating depression, and managing hearing loss are nevertheless important.

“The existence of potentially modifiable risk factors means that prevention of dementia is possible through a public health approach, including the implementation of key interventions that delay or slow cognitive decline or dementia,” the official WHO document maintains, explaining that the organisation’s action plan for improving global health outcomes lists dementia management as a top priority.

“The goal of the action plan is to improve the lives of people with dementia, their careers and families, while decreasing the impact of dementia on them, as well as on communities and countries.”

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