Dementia is a mental disorder that affects aging populations, but the factors begin in early childhood, according to a new report. Published in The Lancet, a new report states that about one in three cases of dementia are preventable with lifestyle factors.
Dementia can be traced to certain factors, such as poor education, obesity and smoking, along with other things. Most of these factors are established in early childhood and become lifestyle choices as a person grows older.
However, with a few different choices, experts believe that at least 35 percent of people diagnosed with dementia could have avoided their current condition.
In the report, nine different factors are identified, from early, mid- and late life stages. These nine factors increase the chances that a person can develop dementia, and the report states that 35 percent of these cases are caused by these avoidable factors. For example, early education and preventing childhood obesity could account for a reduction of up to 20 percent of dementia diagnoses. In later life stages, quitting smoking, exercising and becoming more of a social butterfly could reduce another 15 percent of diagnoses.
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“The potential magnitude of the effect on dementia of reducing these risk factors is larger than we could ever imagine the effect that current, experimental medications could have. Mitigating risk factors provides us a powerful way to reduce the global burden of dementia,” said Lon Schneider, professor of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. Schneider presented the findings in the report at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC). The committee included 24 internal experts on dementia, including Schneider, to create recommendations on the treatment and prevention of dementia.
“There’s been a great deal of focus on developing medicines to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease,” Schneider said. “But we can’t lose sight of the real major advances we’ve already made in treating dementia, including preventive approaches.”
In addition, the committee explored the effectiveness of medicine versus lifestyle factors on the treatment of dementia-related aggression. While medicines and pharmacologic measures have been effective as a treatment for dementia-related aggression, these interventions were not actually found to be superior to the lifestyle factors of prevention. The social, psychological, and environmental factors were found to be more effective than antipsychotic drugs commonly used for treating dementia-related aggression. In addition, the researchers are wary of the adverse side effects of modern medicines, and encourage a more holistic approach.
“Antipsychotic drugs are commonly used to treat agitation and aggression, but there is substantial concern about these drugs because of an increased risk of death, cardiovascular adverse events and infections, not to mention excessive sedation,” Schneider says.
The annual cost of dementia treatment has reached nearly $259 billion, and is expected to reach the trillions by 2050. The number of cases of dementia is also expected to climb by 2050, reaching 16 million. With preventative factors taken into account early on in life, this number can be reduced.