The World Health Organization has unveiled new guidelines on reducing the risk of dementia, which include advising people to exercise and quit smoking.
Dementia is a rapidly growing public health concern, with more than 50 million people around the world suffering from the disease and almost 10 million new cases yearly.
In the guidelines, the WHO stresses that dementia is not a natural and inevitable part of aging, but rather the development of the disease has been associated with several modifiable risk factors.
The organization came up with a number of interventions, rated as either strong or conditional, that might be recommended to a patient to try and prevent the development of dementia.
Some of the strongest recommendations in the new guidelines include increased physical activity, citing five studies which found that physically active people are less likely to develop cognitive decline and dementia compared to inactive people.
Another strong recommendation is quitting smoking. The WHO admits in the guidelines the quality of evidence behind this recommendation is lower, but still cite seven studies which find that quitting smoking is likely to be beneficial.
Many of the other recommendations in the report are classified as conditional, meaning they may be useful for some patients and should be discussed with their health care professional.
Recommendations that fall in this category include cognitive training, interventions in cases of harmful levels of alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy weight.
The guidelines also look to dispel some myths that surround dementia.
The report finds that, despite the common idea that social activity can help keep people’s brains sharp as they age, there is actually insufficient evidence that social activity reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
There is also not enough strong evidence that the use of anti-depressants and hearing aids help prevent cognitive decline.
Despite those findings, the organization says that in most cases those interventions are connected to general good health and well-being, and should still be recommended when necessary.
The guidelines follow the WHO’s “Global action plan on the public health response to dementia” in 2017, pushing the reduction of dementia risks through public health approaches.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.
Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as “senility” or “senile dementia,” which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.