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A leading dementia expert has called for greater public awareness of risk factors associated with dementia.
A new poll has revealed that just one quarter of British adults believe that their risk of developing dementia could be reduced, while the remaining three quarters accept that their risk of developing dementia is an inevitable part of ageing.
Speaking in his opening speech at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference in Manchester this week, Professor Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia at NHS England highlighted the potential for a healthy lifestyle to lower the risk of dementia and called for messages about risk reduction to be promoted to the public.
Professor Burns addressed the largest gathering of dementia researchers in the country and urged more research into ways to prevent dementia.
He said: “These figures show that public understanding of dementia risk factors is low, and we must work to change that if we are to help reduce the number of people developing the condition. Encouragingly, these figures suggest that when given the right information, many people are motivated to make lifestyle choices to help lower their dementia risk – but currently too few people recognise that they may be able to make an impact. We must arm people with the knowledge they need to make informed choices about their lifestyle, as part of a wider strategy that must also include further research into preventions.”
Prevention strategies are crucial
Dementia affects more than 850,000 people in the UK alone a figure that is expected to rise to more than one million by 2025 as the population ages and grows.
There are currently no treatments to slow or stop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, however research has indicated that there are measures that people can take to help reduce their risk of developing dementia.
Chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, Hilary Evans, added: “Although we don’t yet have sure-fire preventions for dementia, there are measures people can take now that could lower their risk of the condition. Increasingly, research is showing that what’s good for your heart is also good for your head, and with the number of people with dementia on the increase it’s vital that this message reaches the public. In the meantime, research into better prevention strategies will be crucial for scaling up the fight against dementia, along with a focus on new treatments for those cases where dementia cannot be prevented.”
Risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease are also risk factors for dementia, while evidence continues to link a healthy lifestyle to a lower risk of developing the condition. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, not drinking to excess, not smoking and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and weight under control are all measures associated with a lower risk of developing dementia.
Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, commented: “The latest evidence shows us that making small changes to our lifestyles, such as eating a balanced diet, taking part in regular exercise and quitting smoking can reduce the risk of dementia.
“We will be raising awareness and piloting a new programme discussing risk reduction for dementia in the NHS Health Check with those aged 40 or older – down from 65 currently. We are also working with Alzheimer’s Research UK to get more people to take part in dementia research which is so crucial to our shared goal of finding a cure.”
'Developing dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing'
The new study has revealed a growing gap between evidence and public understanding of dementia, revealing that very few people believe it is possible to reduce their risk of dementia. The YouGov survey commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK, revealed that only 25 per cent of British adults thought it was possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia, compared to more than 83 per cent for diabetes and 82 per cent for heart disease.
Public Health England launched their ‘One You’ nationwide campaign to address preventable diseases in adults, following research to indicate that 40 per cent of deaths in England are related to behaviour. While the NHS spends more than £11bn per year on treating illnesses caused by the effects of diet, inactivity, smoking and drinking alcohol.
Professor Sir Muir Gray, clinical adviser for the One You campaign said: “Many diseases that impact people’s health and shorten their active lives can be prevented. Currently 42 per cent of adults in midlife are living with at least one long-term health condition which increase their risk of early death and disability.
“Although it has been customary to blame people for their ‘lifestyle’ we now appreciate that we need to take into account the environmental pressures that make it difficult to make healthy choices, having to sit hours hours a day at work for example, and then drive an hour home.”
Adults are being encouraged to take part in a new online health quiz called ‘How Are You’. More than half of 40 to 60 year-olds taking the quiz said they were likely to change their lifestyle to improve their health.
NHS England, in support of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, had an ambition that two thirds of people with dementia should have a diagnosis and support by March 2015, this has now been met. Since March 2014 the number of people being diagnosed has increased from 349,000 to 432,572 in December 2015.
Director of health and well-being at Public Health England, Prof Kevin Fenton, added: “Developing dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. Making better choices today can have a huge influence on our health and can reduce our risk of living with dementia later down the line. Our new One You campaign aims to give adults the motivation and support they need to make simple lifestyle changes to improve their health now, and reduce the risk of developing conditions like dementia in the future. This includes things like eating well, moving more, quitting smoking and drinking less.”