It’s generally associated with old age – which is also a risk factor – but new initiatives to reduce risk and boost prevention of dementia focus on mid-life, i.e. people between 40 and 64. Emerging evidence suggests that the risks of certain types of dementia can be reduced in the same way as for other NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease.

 

Staying active

 

“The evidence on NCD risk reduction from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is encouraging,” explains Dr Charles Alessi, a practising GP and a Senior Advisor and lead for dementia in PHE (Public Health England). “We know that mid-life is important. We know we don’t move enough, for example. When as much as 33 per cent  of the population is inactive, we’ve got a problem. Studies show that all-cause dementia can be reduced by just 20-30 minutes of exercise several days a week.”
Smoking is a no-no – it increases the risk by one third (33 per cent) – as is heavy alcohol intake.
Diabetics are between 1.5 and 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia, and high blood pressure in mid-life can also increase the risk considerably, says Dr Alessi, so it’s important to get treated for these conditions early.

“We need to stop looking at body parts and start looking at the person as a whole”

- Dr Charles Alessi


“Think heart, think head,” he advises: a US study published earlier this year showed a significant downturn in dementia over three decades, with a parallel improvement in cardiovascular health. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain, and it’s never too early to acquire good habits.

 

What are the warning signs we should look out for?

 

“Change,” says Dr Alessi. “Any change in behaviour. We tend to connect memory loss with dementia, but in fact it’s executive function that goes first in vascular dementia – forgetting how to make a cup of tea, for example. If you think there’s something wrong, get checked.”
Here in the UK, those aged between 40 and 64 will soon find dementia prevention incorporated into their regular five-year health checks after pilot schemes went live in August. “We’re really attacking the mid-life sector,” explains Dr Alessi. “Nobody’s done this at such a scale before.”

A lesser-known risk to watch out for is loneliness: feeling isolated because of changes like retirement, bereavement or redundancy can expose us to the same level of increased risk as taking up smoking.
“Depression in mid-life is a real, real problem, because most studies focus on older ages,” says Dr Alessi. “It’s hard to untangle which came first – mid-life depression or the development of other dementia risk factors. But we need to have a high level of suspicion around depression.”
We can boost our own mental health by connecting with other people, and learning reduces the risk of dementia, so joining up for classes serves both purposes. Dr Alessi also sees a role for mindfulness, which practitioners are now actively encouraging.
“Dementia is unique because of the number of aspects it touches in life – there are many agencies involved, and we need a more joined-up, holistic approach to tackle it.
“We need to stop looking at body parts and start looking at the person as a whole”

 

*Source: Dr Alessi blog (https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2015/05/18/dementia-awareness-week-2015-add-life-to-your-years-and-years-to-your-life/)