It is day 4 of Dementia Awareness Month (in Australia!) #DAM2020, and I thought it might be useful to focus on the factors that researchers now know reduce the risk of getting dementia today.
The one ‘risk’ of doing this, is that people with dementia may start to be blamed for getting dementia, and this could in fact, unintentionally increase the stigma people with dementia already experience, in the same way living positively with dementia does.
As the global population of people over the age of 65 skyrockets, this will become more evident. Data from the World Population Prospects: the 2019 Revision[i], says that by 2050, one in six people will be over age 65 (16%), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9%). The number of persons aged 80 years or over is projected to triple, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.
Plus, we know that there are already more than 50 million people living with dementia globally, almost 10 million new cases every year, and currently there is one new diagnosis of dementia every 3.2 seconds[ii]. Like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, it is important we consider reducing the risk of dementia.
This is even more improtant as it appears that researchers are not close to discovering disease modifying drugs or a cure for any type of dementia yet. As Teepa Snow says, Until there is a cure for dementia, there is care. We need to add to that philosophy, the factors for reducing the risk of dementia.
In 2017 the Lancet Standing Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care identified potential “modifiable” risk factors for dementia. Meaning, there are factors that may be in our power to change. The researchers also suggested that eliminating these risk factors could significantly reduce the number of people living with dementia.
The Lancet report identified nine modifiable risk factors in 2017, and our age and our genetics determine most of our risk for dementia. While there is nothing we can do to change these aspects of our risk, modifiable risk factors are things we as individuals, or that policymakers, may be able to do something about. Those nine factors were:
- Early life education
- Hearing loss
- Lack of physical activity
- Social isolation
- High blood pressure
As well as adding further evidence to the nine factors identified in 2017, the researchers have also added three more risk factors for dementia to their list. These are:
- Higher alcohol consumption (more than 21 units a week)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Exposure to air pollution