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Public health experts call for action on dementia

Tackling known risk factors could prevent up to a fifth of new dementia cases

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Doctors have joined with public health experts and health charities to call for a new national focus on reducing the population risk of dementia. They are campaigning to make people aware that, just like other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), dementia is amenable to risk reduction.

Paul Lincoln, chief executive officer of the UK Health Forum warned this morning: “Unless we tackle the root causes of the problem we will not achieve the scale or pace of improvement needed to curb the huge social and economic costs of dementia and other non-communicable diseases.”

The UK Health Forum and Public Health England met earlier this earlier this year to discuss the growing problem of dementia, which will affect one in three people who live to over the age of 65, already affects 800,000 people in the UK, costs the economy £23bn a year and is one of the top three causes of disability in later life.

Today they published their Blackfriars Consensus Statement – signed by 59 groups and individuals – in which they call for new national focus to reduce the risk of developing dementia. They point out that tackling risk factors for heart disease, stroke and many cancers could reduce the risk of dementia too. In linked correspondence* in The Lancet, they write: “Action on the same behavioural and intermediate risk factors for NCDs (including tobacco, poor diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol) and consequent reductions in raised blood pressure, blood cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes could prevent between 3% and 20% of predicted new cases of dementia in 20 years.”

The statement calls for:

  • stronger collaboration between clinical practitioners, public health and prevention experts, researchers and policy makers concerned with dementia or with other NCDs
  • the training and development of people working in health care, public health and social care to incorporate “the rapidly evolving potential for dementia prevention and risk reduction”, which they say could be most efficient when integrated into existing training programmes on NCD prevention.
  • follow up of existing trials and cohort studies – such as those for diabetes and cardiovascular disease – to examine long-term implications on dementia outcomes
  • better ways to achieve early diagnosis, and prevent deterioration using different models of provision and support.

Dr Charles Alessi, senior advisor and dementia prevention lead at PHE, said: “The Blackfriars Consensus Statement is an important step in changing the way we think about dementia. We need to start to ‘think brain, think heart’ as brain health is inexorably linked to heart health and we can add healthy years to our lives by reducing risks earlier in our lives.

“Public health programmes have contributed to a big decline in deaths from heart disease and stroke over the past 50 years – we now need to achieve the same on dementia, which is one of the biggest challenges facing our society.”

* Lincoln P, Fenton K, Alessi C, et al. The Blackfriars Consensus on brain health and dementia. The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 20 May 2014 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60758-3

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