KARACHI: According to new set of guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) Geneva, people can reduce their risk of developing dementia by regularly exercising, avoiding harmful habits such as smoking and alcohol use, maintaining a healthy diet, controlling their weight, maintaining a 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 confirms what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”
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. They will also be useful for governments, policy-makers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programs that encourage healthy lifestyles.
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 the caregivers 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 the WHO’s key recommendations for countries in their efforts to manage this growing health challenge. During 2018, the WHO provided support to countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Qatar, Slovenia, and Sri Lanka to help them develop a comprehensive, multi-sectoral public health response to dementia.
An essential element of every national dementia plan is to provide support for the caregivers of people with dementia, said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “Dementia caregivers are very often family members who need to make significant adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones. This is why the WHO created iSupport. iSupport is an online training program providing the caregivers of people with dementia advice on the overall management of care, dealing with behavioural changes and how to look after their own health.”
Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem. It is an illness characterized by a deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal ageing. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement. Dementia stems from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer disease or stroke.
Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally. There are nearly 10 million new cases that report every year. Dementia is a significant cause of disability and dependency among older people. Additionally, the disease inflicts a substantial 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.