February 1, 2023

Hundreds of thousands of cases of dementia could be halted if people took more steps to prevent it, new data suggests.

Regular hearing checks, seven hours of sleep a night and more exercise are among 12 lifestyle factors that could reduce a person’s chances of dementia by up to 40 percent.

But only a third of Britons know there are things they can do to help keep dementia at bay, according to new data from Alzheimer’s Research UK.

And only one in 50 people is doing everything they can to avoid the disease, according to a survey.

Regular hearing checks, seven hours of sleep a night and more exercise are among 12 lifestyle factors that could reduce a person’s chances of dementia by up to 40 percent.

The 12 steps to reduce the risk of dementia

  • Sleep at least seven hours a night
  • Regularly challenging the brain
  • Taking care of mental well-being
  • stay socially active
  • taking care of your hearing
  • eat a balanced diet
  • stay physically active
  • Give up smoking
  • drink responsibly
  • Maintain a healthy cholesterol level
  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Manage diabetes as well as possible

Experts have suggested simple steps, such as hearing tests in your 30s and 40s, that could help reduce dementia rates and have called for brain health to become a bigger part of the NHS Health Check.

The charity is launching an online survey for people to see their score on modifiable risk factors.and what they can do now to increase their chances of avoiding it in the future.

Around 900,000 people in the UK and 7 million in the US have dementia, a general term used for various brain diseases that affect memory, thinking and cognition.

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In 2020, the Lancet Commission concluded that up to 40 percent of cases could be prevented or delayed by targeting 12 modifiable risk factors, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use, and smoking.

With cases projected to skyrocket 75 percent by 2050, a survey of more than 2,000 found that just two percent of the public are taking the necessary steps to reduce risks as much as possible.

Hearing loss, for example, has been linked to five modifiable risk factors, including social isolation, depression, physical inactivity/obesity, and brain injury from falls.

Previous research found that hearing aid users had a 50 percent lower risk of mild cognitive impairment than those who didn’t, while another showed they could reduce the progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia by 27 percent.

However, the stigmas associated with hearing aids and the difficulties in accessing them mean that most people who need them still don’t use them.

The latest survey found that while 35 percent of people said they had concerns about their hearing, six in ten (59 percent) reported that they had done nothing about it.

Dr Sarah Bauermeister, Senior Scientist at Dementia Platforms UK, said hearing screenings should be standardized and made “more accessible, more affordable and more easily usable by hearing impaired people”.

“Regular hearing checks at all population levels are very important and this is throughout life, so it’s normal to have a hearing check whether you’re in your 30s or 40s.

“And then if we normalize hearing tests, it will normalize hearing aid use and reduce the stigma around hearing aid use.”

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Less than a third (31 percent) of the public said they get the recommended seven hours of quality sleep a night, the recommended amount for good brain health.

And more than a third of people report that they fail to challenge their brain regularly, with 32 percent only managing to do it occasionally and 4 percent rarely doing it.

Scientists hope that by raising awareness about risk factors, which change as we age, people can take steps to reduce their chances of contracting the disease.

Professor Jonathan Schott, chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the disease had become people’s “biggest fear” of aging.

An increasing number of people are undergoing genetic testing, he said, accounting for the remaining 60 percent of cases.

However, increased public awareness of lifestyle changes could reduce cases by tens of thousands a year, he suggests.

He said: ‘Dementia is now the most feared consequence of aging, so people want to know what they do with their risk.

“People come to us, people leave, and they do the genetics, which of course they can’t change, and then they ask what they can do to modify the risk.

“The fact that many of the risk factors we mentioned (blood pressure, smoking, etc.) are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer, we can take advantage of that as part of the public health message.

“It’s empowering for people to know there are things they can do and that’s why this tool has been developed.”

WHAT IS DEMENTIA?

A GLOBAL CONCERN

Dementia is a generic term used to describe a variety of progressive neurological disorders (those that affect the brain) that affect memory, thinking, and behavior.

There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.

Regardless of the type that is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in a unique way.

Dementia is a global concern, but it is seen more often in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live to a very old age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?

The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are currently over 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK. It is projected to increase to 1.6 million by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 percent of those diagnosed.

In the US, there are an estimated 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage increase is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of developing dementia.

Diagnosis rates are improving, but many people with dementia are thought to remain undiagnosed.

IS THERE A CURE?

There is currently no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow its progression and the sooner it is detected, the more effective the treatments can be.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society