More than one third of the 50 million people worldwide living with dementia may have been able to prevent it by addressing certain lifestyle factors, according to a new report released Thursday.
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The Lancet International Commission comprised of 24 brain experts from the around the world found that roughly 35% of all cases of dementia may be attributable to nine potentially “modifiable risk factors” at certain life stages.
Those risk factors include early life education (to the maximum age of 11 or 12), mid-life hypertension, obesity and hearing loss. And later in life, depression, diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking and low social contact.
"The top two that really resonate are early childhood education and aggressively treating hypertension. Now, we know that those two point to not only the brain health as a life course issue, but also making sure your heart health is there because your heart health is related to your brain health,” Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association (ALZ) tells FOX Business.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association International, someone in the world develops dementia—a decline in mental ability—every 3 seconds and nearly 58% of cases are from low and middle income countries. That number is expected to rise to 68% by 2050.
However, Professor Gill Livingston, MD, from the University College London and lead author of The Lancet Commission warns that not all cases are preventable.
"While public health interventions will not prevent, or cure all potentially modifiable dementia, intervention for cardiovascular risk factors, mental health, and hearing may push back the onset of many people for years,” Livingston said. “Even if some of this promise is realized, it could make a huge difference and we have already seen in some populations that dementia is being delayed for years. Dementia prevalence could be halved if its onset were delayed by five years.”
Carrillo adds that over the last few years researchers have seen an increase in the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease—the most common form of dementia.
“There are almost 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in the United States today and globally, that number is upwards of about 30 million. The disease also costs us a lot of money. In this country alone, it costs $260 billion and now that number is set to reach $1.1 trillion by 2025 or mid-century, if we don’t not stop this disease process,” Carrillo adds.
Carrillo is one of the many experts at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, where researchers from around the world are meeting in hopes of finding a cure or treatment for the disease. Earlier this week, they released research that said diet, stress levels and sleep also impact your risk of cognitive brain decline.
“What that means is that you may have a window of opportunity where you can either stop or delay the disease before your memories start to go and before brain damage is too set in to make changes. So, that’s really exciting, and people are talking now about preventing Alzheimer’s disease like we’ve never done before,” Carrillo said.