A major study published in the Lancet journal suggests that around 35% of dementia cases could be prevented if people made more effort to look after their brain health throughout their lives.
The international study listed nine key risk factors for dementia including lack of education, hearing loss, smoking and physical inactivity.
And the study will be presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.
It is believed that 131 million people people could be living with dementia worldwide by 2050, while it is estimated that around 47 million people already live with the condition.
Nine factors contribute to the risk of dementia:
Mid-life hearing loss – responsible for 9% of the risk
Failing to complete secondary education – 8%
Smoking – 5%
Failing to seek early treatment for depression – 4%
Physical inactivity – 3%
Social isolation – 2%
High blood pressure – 2%
Obesity – 1%
Type 2 diabetes – 1%
With these factors totalling 35%, it is clear that more than one-in-three cases of the condition could be prevented.
“Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before,” said lead author Prof Gill Livingston, from University College London. “Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families and, in doing so, will transform the future of society.”
Twenty-four international experts were involved in the authoring of the report, which emphasises the importance of lifestyle factors.
The text of the Lancet article speaks of building a cognitive reserve, which strengthens the brain’s neural networks, enabling it to function in later life even when damage is present.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, believes that the research is particularly illustrative.
“Though it’s not inevitable, dementia is currently set to be the 21st Century’s biggest killer. We all need to be aware of the risks and start making positive lifestyle changes.”
While Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, called on the government to invest more funding in research on dementia.
“Alongside prevention research, we must continue to invest in research to find a life-changing treatment for people with this devastating condition.”
Not smoking, doing exercise, keeping a healthy weight, treating high blood pressure and diabetes can all reduce the risk of dementia, as well as cardiovascular disease, and cancer, researchers concluded.
However, the scientist also indicated that they did not have enough data to include dietary factors or alcohol in their calculations but believe both could be important.