Healthy Diet, Regular Exercise... How To Tackle The Growing Dementia Problem

Regular exercise, avoiding cigarettes, drinking less and eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of dementia, according to a new report by the World Health Organisation.

Close to 50 million people around the world are living with dementia, with one new case every three seconds.

It's a major cause of disability, can devastate the lives of individuals and families, and comes at an incredibly high cost, with $1 trillion spent on treatment each year

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia."

So, for the first time, WHO has released guidelines in a bid to tackle dementia and general cognitive decline.

Photo: Getty

What exactly is dementia?

We hear about it a lot, but it's often never explained.

Basically, it's not one specific disease but a collection of symptoms that are caused by the disorders affecting the brain. It impacts the way you think, behave and perform everyday tasks.

Dementia comes in a number of forms, each has its own causes. The most common type is Alzheimer's disease.

In Australia, close to 500,000 people are living with dementia. It's the second leading cause of death, with women accounting for 64.5 percent of all dementia-related deaths.

Despite decades of research, there are no drugs that can halt or reverse the condition.

How to reduce your risk:

While age is the strongest risk factor, the World Health Organisation stresses that dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of ageing.

The report, released on Wednesday, suggests that improving health overall is key, with regular physical activity, a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco and drinking less all key factors.

A Mediterranean diet -- consisting of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and olive oil -- is recommended.

Certain medical conditions are also linked to dementia, including hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, obesity and depression.

So, keeping weight down, maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol, and keeping diabetes under control is recommended.

Social isolation, cognitive inactivity and hearing loss are also highlighted as risk factors, but it's important to note that there is no evidence that hearing aids or antidepressants can slow or prevent the disease.

The role of health professionals and governments:

The guidelines will provide our healthcare workers with information to help advise patients on how to reduce their risk.

They will also help governments and planning authorities to develop and introduce new policy and programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

“The vision of the action plan is a world in which dementia is prevented and people with dementia and their carers live well and receive the care and support they need to fulfil their potential with dignity, respect, autonomy and equality,” the WHO authors said.

Although these risk factors are now being universally addressed, it won't prevent all cases of the disease.

It's hoped that researchers will soon find a cure or at least a way to slow the disease.