Elimination of risk factors should start in childhood
Medical research has made great strides in recent years, but degenerative dementias such as Alzheimer's is still not curable to this day. However, the number of cases worldwide could be significantly reduced if the risk factors were tackled from childhood. This is currently reported by an international team of researchers in the specialist magazine "The Lancet".
Dementia has not yet been curable
To date, dementia diseases such as Alzheimer's have not been cured in spite of medical progress. The therapies currently available can only slow down the disease process and alleviate accompanying symptoms. However, as an international team of researchers wrote in The Lancet, many dementia cases worldwide could be prevented if certain risk factors were eliminated from childhood. These include, among other things, a lack of education in adolescence (up to 15 years) and overweight and high blood pressure in later years.
Changes in the brain do not start in old age
The scientists led by Gill Livingston from University College London (Great Britain) examined the effects of a total of nine health and lifestyle factors, some of which only affect a certain phase of life, but can also apply to life as a whole. In addition to the three mentioned, these include hearing loss, social isolation, depression, diabetes, smoking and lack of exercise. If all of these factors were consistently counteracted from childhood, this could prevent a third of cases worldwide, according to the University College London.
“Although dementia is diagnosed later in life, brain changes usually begin to develop years earlier. Risk factors for the development of the disease occur not only in old age, but throughout life, ”said study leader Gill Livingston.
Longer schooling reduces the risk of illness
In adolescence, the best possible school education played an important role in prevention, since learning and training cognitive skills strengthened the brain's resilience. If all children and adolescents worldwide had access to appropriate education, the experts could be prevented after eight percent of the later cases of dementia. Avoiding hearing loss in middle age has even greater effects on reducing the number of illnesses, the report says.
However, the scientists concede that “the numbers [.] Should be interpreted with caution”, since it is not possible to completely eliminate all risk factors. In addition, other potential risk factors such as e.g. Alcohol consumption or lack of sleep were not included. Nevertheless, the study shows that it is possible to tackle incurable dementia.
The number of people affected will be almost three times as high by 2050
According to the latest estimates, around 47 million people worldwide would live with dementia. However, the number of those affected will increase to 131 million by 2050, almost tripling, according to the researchers. The highest increase is expected in countries with low and middle incomes.
"The authors rightly draw attention to the importance and enormous potential of prevention through lifestyle changes and environmental factors," commented Monique Breteler of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, according to the "dpa". However, the director of population-related health research still needs to be clarified as to which of the factors are actually causally related to dementia.
Researchers are optimistic about the future
"We believe that a broader approach to preventing dementia that reflects these changing risk factors will benefit our aging societies and help prevent the increasing number of dementia cases worldwide," said Professor Livingston.
Martin Prince from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences at King’s College in London also agrees: “The research group recommends a comprehensible action package that complements the global approach to dementia on a scientific basis,” said the scientist in a comment on the study. (No)