WHO issues first advice on dementia: Exercise and don't smoke

Leslie Hanson
May 17, 2019

The disease also exacts a heavy economic toll, with the cost of caring for people with dementia estimated to rise to $2 trillion annually by 2030, according to WHO.

Other preventive measures outlined are controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. "We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia".

"Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally".

Dementia affects roughly 5 million Americans and that number is expected to grow dramatically in the next few years, according to Braintest. Other action areas covered in the guidelines include diagnosis, treatment and care; the strengthening of information systems; supporting carers of dementia patients; and research and innovation.

Dementia is a syndrome - usually of a chronic or progressive nature - in which there is deterioration in cognitive function (i.e. the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from normal ageing.

It said that the condition affected the memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement of an individual.

"During the last two decades, several studies have shown a relationship between the development of cognitive impairment and dementia with educational attainment, and lifestyle-related risk factors, such as physical inactivity, tobacco use, unhealthy diets and harmful use of alcohol", the report states.

The guidelines were created to provide healthcare professionals with the knowledge they need to advise patients on the measures they can take to reduce their risk for cognitive decline and dementia.

The guidelines will be useful for governments, policy-makers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programs that encourage healthy lifestyles, the World Health Organization said.

"An essential element of every national dementia plan should be support for carers of people with dementia".

"Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones", said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

Neerja Chowdhary, a World Health Organization expert, said that the study had not looked at smoking marijuana and did not include environmental factors, although there was some evidence of a link with pollution, and there was too little evidence of a link with poor sleep to include it in the recommendations.

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