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Eliminating These 12 Risk Factors Could Cut Global Dementia Rates by 40%

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A new report has estimated that the number of dementia cases worldwide could be reduced by 40% if 12 risk factors for the condition could be completely eliminated. The Lancet Commission Report has included excessive alcohol use, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and pollution as three new risk factors in its updated model for dementia risk. The report, supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK, is published today (Thursday 31 July) at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2020.

The team of 28 dementia experts from the UK and wider afield brought together existing evidence from a range of studies and modelled their likely impact on prevalence of the condition.

The report follows on from a previous commission in 2017, which modelled the impact of nine dementia risk factors and is the most comprehensive overview of research into dementia prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care to date.

The researchers looked at the potential impact of eliminating risk factors for dementia, including established risks such as hypertension, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, diabetes, depression, and lack of education in early life.

As well as outlining established risk factors for dementia, their report also looked at studies investigating sleep as a potential risk factor, but found there was not enough comprehensive evidence to definitively link sleep to dementia risk.

The results suggest that if it were possible to eliminate all 12 potentially modifiable risk factors, the number of people living with dementia could be reduced by up to 40%. The report identified that the three risk factors with the largest potential impact were hearing loss, low education in early life, and smoking.

What are the 12 risk factors?
A previous commission, in 2017, listed nine risk factors:
  • Less education
  • Hypertension
  • Hearing impairment
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Low social contact

This new commission adds a further three:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Air pollution

Currently, an estimated 50 million people are living with dementia across the globe, including nearly 1m in the UK, with those numbers expected to rise as populations age across the globe.

The findings highlight the broad potential for risk reduction to lower the impact of dementia across the population, but do not calculate individual risk. While people can take steps to help limit their individual risk of dementia, a person’s age and genetics also contribute to their risk, and even people who are able to avoid all of these lifestyle risk factors can still develop the condition.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:“This collaborative report from dementia experts across the world highlights a number of potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia throughout a person’s life. Research is constantly uncovering more about dementia and this is the most comprehensive overview into dementia risk to date, building on previous work by this commission and moving our understanding forward.

“As new studies continue to develop the evidence base on dementia risk, the report has identified three new risk factors for dementia. More evidence on the complex topic of sleep is needed before we can make a judgement on its impact on dementia risk, but we hope this report will act as a catalyst for further research.

“With no treatments yet able to slow or stop the onset of dementia, taking action to reduce these risks is an important part of our strategy for tackling the condition. Prevention strategies must be underpinned by robust evidence and while our understanding of dementia risk is growing, there is still much we need to know about the different risk factors for dementia.

“This report underlines the importance of acting at a personal and policy level to reduce dementia risk. With Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Dementia Attitudes Monitor showing just a third of people think it’s possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia, there’s clearly much to do here to increase people’s awareness of the steps they can take.

“While there’s no sure-fire way of preventing dementia, the best way to keep your brain healthy as you age is to stay physically and mentally active, eat a healthy balanced diet, not smoke, drink only within the recommended limits and keep weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check.”

Reference: Livingston, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S., Brayne, C., Burns, A., Cohen-Mansfield, J., Cooper, C., Costafreda, S. G., Dias, A., Fox, N., Gitlin, L. N., Howard, R., Kales, H. C., Kivimäki, M., Larson, E. B., Ogunniyi, A., … Mukadam, N. (2020). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30367-6

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