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WHO issues guidelines on dementia risk reduction

‘What’s good for the heart is good for the brain’

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Healthy lifestyle choices to reduce dementia risk are outlined in new guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The guidelines provide the knowledge base for health-care providers to advise patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia.


WHO states that the guidelines will also be useful for governments, policy-makers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programmes that encourage healthy lifestyles.

The report describes how 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.

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

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

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. Other areas include: strengthening information systems for dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; supporting carers of people with dementia; and research and innovation.

WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory, launched in December 2017, is a compilation of information about country activities and resources for dementia, such as national plans, dementia-friendly initiatives, awareness campaigns and facilities for care. Data from 21 countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, France, Japan, Jordan and Togo, have already been included, with a total of 80 countries now engaged in providing data.

Creating national policies and plans for dementia are among WHO’s key recommendations for countries in their efforts to manage this growing health challenge.

Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally. There are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Dementia is a major cause of disability and dependency among older people. Additionally, the disease inflicts a heavy economic burden on societies as a whole, with the costs of caring for people with dementia estimated to rise to US$ 2 trillion annually by 2030.

Commenting on the new guidance, Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research office at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is the biggest health challenge of our generation, so the WHO’s clear commitment to spearheading the global fight against the condition through a public health approach is to be welcomed.

“Policy-makers and governments across the globe should take on board WHO’s recommendations and prevention advice. They must also unite in supporting further research to develop more specific, personalised risk reduction advice.”

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