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New report clarifies how you can reduce your risk of dementia

In 2023 alone, nearly 50,000 stories1 have been published worldwide on dementia and nutrition, highlighting the difficulties individuals face when trying to reduce their risk of dementia, says Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).

ADI, the international federation of more than 100 national Alzheimer’s associations, says that while it is important to discuss the latest research developments, the sheer volume of stories, often without context, makes it incredibly difficult to make informed lifestyle changes.

“Nearly 200 stories are published every day about diets for dementia, referencing the latest research on everything from blueberries to champagne. The reality is that the conversation is much more nuanced than that,” said Paola Barbarino, CEO of ADI.

Paola Barbarino, CEO of ADI.

“How many blueberries, for how long and when to start? Is alcohol generally bad for brain health, or do the benefits of moderate, social drinking outweigh the disadvantages? It can be confusing for the public to understand and make clear choices to help manage their risks,” Barbarino continued.

The World Alzheimer’s Report 2023, titled “Reducing the Risk of Dementia: Never Too Early, Never Too Late,” which was released Thursday, focuses on reducing the risk of dementia as a practice, not a theory. The report draws on insights from around 90 leading researchers, healthcare professionals, policy makers, people with dementia and informal caregivers, to help readers understand the risk of dementia in a holistic and easy-to-read way.

In 2020, The Lancet compiled a list of 12 proven controllable risk factors for dementia (smoking, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption, air pollution, head injury, little social contact, less education, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and hearing disorders) which, if addressed, can slow, delay or prevent progression. 40 percent of dementia cases[3] worldwide.

“Research increasingly shows that dementia can be delayed or even prevented by focusing on our lifestyle choices such as exercise, diet and social connections; furthermore, it is never too late to correct hearing loss,” says Dame Louise Robinson, Professor of Primary Care and Aging at the University of Newcastle and co-chair of ADI’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel. “Healthy hearts, healthy bodies and healthy brains should be our mantra.”

In addition to providing an overview of modifiable risk factors and the latest research into risk reduction, the report also addresses how dementia risk reduction is manifesting itself in concrete ways worldwide.

“Some of these risk factors require a degree of personal choice by individuals, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, while others require government action, such as air quality and access to education,” says Barbarino.

Research shows that individuals can develop dementia for decades before symptoms become apparent [4]. However, reducing exposure to risk factors, both before and after a diagnosis, can slow, delay, or even prevent the progression of dementia.

Every three seconds someone develops dementia. An estimated 55 million people worldwide currently live with the neurological condition, with two-thirds of people still mistakenly thinking it is a normal part of aging.

Risk reduction after diagnosis can also help slow the progression of dementia in individuals already living with a diagnosis [5]. It is therefore imperative that information and advice is clear and understandable, and that lifestyle changes are accessible and affordable for everyone.

“Risk reduction does not end with a diagnosis,” says Emily Ong, who lives with dementia in Singapore.

“I immediately sought advice on nutrition and ways to slow the progression and continue living well. The kitchen is the heart of my home and I love cooking, so I have adapted the recipes, cooked more with the family and introduced more dementia-friendly kitchen appliances such as clear kettles.”

Understand and adapt the research regionally

While stories about some miracle ingredients for dementia represent a lack of nuance, regional considerations are also often a missing piece of the puzzle.

Often billed as diets to save brain health, recommended dietary guidelines such as the Mediterranean or MIND diets fail to capture regionally available products and cultural considerations.

“The Mediterranean diet is great – for people who have access to those types of products,” says Barbarino. “But what does that diet look like for people in Mexico? Or Zambia? Or India? Different regions have access to different foods and cultural traditions that can shape the way they approach their diet.”

One of the articles from the report Finding Community, Mutual Support, and Meaning in a Remote Japanese Village,” takes us to Japan’s Okinawa Islands, where the local cultural concept of ikigai, or the purpose of life, is the key to the area’s famous longevity and good health. These are just some examples of how the report examines cultural and societal variations when thinking about reducing the risk of dementia.

Drug developments and silver bullets

Despite recent advances in disease-modifying drugs, which have given many people around the world hope that we are getting closer to finding a cure, we are still far from the goal of global, accessible and affordable treatments for all types of diseases. Dementia.

“The old saying goes that prevention is better than cure – and in the absence of a cure, risk reduction is the best tool we have today,” says Barbarino. “We understand it’s not always easy, but we can’t get out of this, and there won’t be a magic pill anytime soon.”

Dr. Howard Fillit, co-founder and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, says new breakthroughs in dementia treatment make efforts to reduce risks even more important.

“It is critical that we continue to develop our arsenal of tools to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, even if only by a few years, because any delay in the onset of the disease makes a huge difference in patients’ lives “, he says.

ADI’s message is clear: take responsibility where you can about the 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia to manage your own personal dementia risk, and advocate for government intervention where individual behavioral changes may not be enough.

“It’s never too early and never too late to take action to reduce your personal risk of dementia,” says Barbarino. “Risk reduction is a lifelong effort and is most effective when awareness and understanding of brain health begins early in life and continues beyond diagnosis.”

Footnotes

1 Search for meltwater about diet stories about dementia 09/07/23

2 World Alzheimer Report 2023, page 11

3 National Institute on Aging: Inside the brain: The role of neuropathology in Alzheimer’s disease research 2022: https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/inside-brain-role-neuropathology-alzheimers-disease-research

4 World Alzheimer Report 2023, page 82

© Japan Today

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