Today, around 50 million people live with dementia worldwide and that number is only growing. By 2050, this population is projected to increase to 152 million. This rise will particularly affect low-income and middle-income countries, which is home to two-thirds of people with dementia.
However, about 40 per cent of dementia cases worldwide could be prevented or delayed by targeting 12 risk factors, according to an updated report.
The Lancet Commission, led by 28 leading experts on dementia, added three new risk factors in addition to the nine previously identified in 2017. Factors including excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury and air pollution join less education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes and low social contact.
“Culture, poverty, and inequality are key drivers of the need for change,” the report’s authors write. “Individuals who are most deprived need these changes the most and will derive the highest benefit.”
However, there is good news The potential for prevention is high and it’s never too early or too late to begin. While there’s little evidence for any single, specific activity to protect against dementia, the report outlines steps that individuals and policy makers can take to minimize the risk, such as accessible childhood education, limiting alcohol intake, stopping smoking, improving air quality in areas with high pollution, using hearing aids and keeping an active lifestyle through mid and later life.
“Although behaviour change is difficult and some associations might not be purely causal, individuals have a huge potential to reduce their dementia risk,” said the report’s authors.
In high income countries like the United States and France, the proportion of older people with dementia has fallen compared to previous generations. It’s also lower in people born more recently, which the report’s authors hypothesized was due to education, socioeconomic, healthcare and lifestyle changes.
The report also advocates for individualized interventions in caring for people with dementia, with wellbeing as the overall goal. It cites the effectiveness of tailoring to the patient’s needs in managing neuropsychiatric symptoms, in addition to reducing depression and anxiety over the years.