How to avoid dementia – WHO guidelines
People can reduce their risk of dementia by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These principles are stated in guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO), the first ever issued by the organization.
While there is no treatment that can cure it, there are things people can do to lower their risk of the disease or slow its onset. Old age is the strongest risk factor, but it is not a natural or inevitable consequence of ageing. Genetics also play a role, but many risk factors are modifiable.
The reduction of risk factors for dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to dementia.
In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
What the new guidelines recommend
Here are the main WHO guidelines, summarized by BBC:
- Exercise - adults, including the elderly, should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. This could include planned exercise, like cycling, or everyday activities such as housework
- Stop smoking - it is bad for brain and body
- Eat well - a healthy, Mediterranean-like diet containing plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit is beneficial
- Don't bother with vitamin pills - there is no evidence that they help lower dementia risk
- Avoid heavy alcohol use - drinking too much is risky. Some studies have suggested that light consumption might actually be protective against dementia but there is not enough good evidence to support this idea
- Brain training - some studies suggest that activities to challenge the brain, such as crosswords and bespoke computer games, could be beneficial
- Be social - although there is no proof that it will stop or slow dementia, staying connected with friends is linked with good health and wellbeing
- Keep a healthy weight - this goes hand in hand with eating a good diet and getting enough exercise to stay fit and healthy
- Beware high blood pressure - there is a strong link between dementia and high blood pressure
- Get treated if you have diabetes - good control of blood sugar is important for lowering the risk of associated complications, including dementia
- Beware high cholesterol - it is a risk factor, although it is not clear whether cholesterol-lowering medication (statins) will reverse the risk