Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide with cases expected to triple by 2050. Every year, nearly 10 million people are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. This makes dementia a rapidly growing global public health problem and priority for international health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO released its first guidelines for reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia earlier this month, outlining their response to this growing threat.
What do they suggest to stay cognitively fit? In general, live a healthy lifestyle.
According to these evidence-based guidelines, people can reduce their risk of dementia by exercising regularly, refraining from tobacco use, eating healthy (particularly a plant heavy diet) avoiding harmful drinking, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other recommendations are suggested in varying degrees strength, as well as by quality of evidence.
“The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO General-Director in a statement.
The report provides actionable steps that key stakeholders can take and is one prong of an education-first approach towards reducing the burden of dementia worldwide. Despite this conglomeration of knowledge, one undeniable truth remains–we still know little about the origins of dementia and Alzheimer’s. While the report noted that there was insufficient evidence regarding the role certain factors play, including brain exercises and loneliness, many connections between these factors remain in doubt and require further research.
For example, there was proof that social engagement was good for maintaining overall health, however there was inadequate evidence to identify whether loneliness plays a role in exacerbating existing cognitive decline.
Among the certain truths in this report, one that deserves consideration is that dementia is not a natural part of the aging process. Lifestyle-related factors are increasingly being linked to the development of dementia in several recent studies, implying that potential dementia risk factors may be modifiable.
These Guidelines provide information for health-care providers to advise patients on what actions they can take to prevent cognitive decline and dementia for improved quality of care. Further research will be conducted to gauge the effectiveness of these recommendations and adjust accordingly.
With the costs of dementia care projected to inflict an economic burden upwards of $2 trillion annually by 2030, these Guidelines are only one part of the WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to dementia. Other initiatives include: supporting carers of people with dementia; treatment and care; research and innovation; improving information systems; and diagnosis.
To read the full Guidelines, please visit Risk Reduction of Cognitive Decline and Dementia WHO Guidelines.