Though the terms may seem interchangeable, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not the same. Dementia is the name for a group of brain disorders of which Alzheimer’s disease is but one, though it is the most common type of dementia. It’s estimated that somewhere between 60 to 80 percent of people who have dementia have Alzheimer’s.
I point this out because in the past week or so there has been a lot of breaking news about both dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This news was emanating from the United Kingdom and the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care and the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care brought together 24 leading international experts to review existing dementia research, as well as provide recommendations for treating and preventing this devastating condition.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2015, the total global societal cost of dementia was estimated to be $818 billion. This equals more than 1 percent of the worldwide gross domestic product. There are an estimated 9.9 million new cases of dementia every year. It is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. Though dementia is not an inevitable consequence of ageing, nor does it exclusively affect older people as generally believed.
Here is but some of the good news coming out of the commission: it was reported that one-third of cases of dementia worldwide could potentially be prevented through better management of lifestyle factors. These key factors include getting systematic education from an early age, avoiding smoking and keeping blood pressure and obesity under control. Researchers found that cases could be reduced by 5 percent if people merely stopped smoking. Developing strong social connections, combined with intellectually stimulating brain activities, exercise and healthy diet were also identified as key factors.
There is currently no drug treatment available to prevent or cure dementia. What the report highlights is the impact of non-drug interventions and modifiable risk factors developed through various stages of life can affect the likelihood of developing dementia. Addressing merely major genetic risk factors would only affect roughly 7 percent of people. Researchers say they are hopeful the report will help shift more focus on better management of lifestyle factors people can adopt to help avoid the disease.
Health officials estimate that 47 million people around the world currently live with dementia. Unless things change dramatically, triple that number could be affected by 2050, according to World Health Organization estimates. This is why lead study author Professor Gill Livingston of University College London believes dementia to be the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century.
In other news – this coming from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London – a study found that healthy older adults who followed the plant-based Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of dementia by a third.
“Eating a healthy plant-based diet is associated with better cognitive function and around 30 percent to 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment during aging,” lead author Claire McEvoy, of the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine told CNN. Those who marginally followed the diet also benefited, it was noted, but by a much smaller margin.
The suggested diet is relatively simple. It involves plant-based cooking, with the majority of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra virgin olive oil. Meat plays a more minor role and is usually included to flavor a dish or in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet.
In 2015, Dr. McEvoy studied 923 Chicago-area seniors and found those who said they followed the diet religiously had a 53 percent lower chance of getting Alzheimer’s, while those who followed it moderately lowered their risk by about 35 percent. “Foods that keep blood pressure normal, provide us with antioxidants, and maintain healthy bacteria in our gut, or microbiome, will serve to help keep chronic inflammation in check in the brain and entire body,” neurologist Rudy Tanzi explained to CNN.
Researchers found that addressing loneliness and boredom to be the two most important needs for many elderly people in these settings. They also found the most potent positive stimuli for improved outcomes to be social engagement. They hope to roll the approach out to 1,000 care facilities in the near future.
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