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Dementia: a sharp rise in expected cases – how to avoid falling into one of them | science | In-depth reports on science and technology | DW

A diagnosis of dementia is a frightening prospect.

Those affected lose the ability to think, remember and reason so severely that it is difficult for them to continue with daily life. They struggle to control their emotions, communicate, and perform daily tasks. He is exhausted and incomprehensible.

In the next three decades, the number of people living with dementia is set to triple — rising from about 57 million today to more than 152 million by 2050, according to the results of a new study published in The Lancet.

Although it’s a grim prognosis, many of the risk factors for dementia are what scientists describe as “modifiable” — meaning that changes in behavior can affect your chances of developing dementia.

So, what can we do to fend off this crippling condition?

Before it’s too late, consider these risk factors

Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a general term used to describe the last stage of neurodegenerative disease – when it is too late to reverse the changes.

However, not all cognitive impairments that can lead to dementia will lead to dementia. Some of them can be reversed, and most importantly, many can be prevented through changes in the way we live our lives, says Marina Bocardi, a dementia expert at the German Research Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE).

Besides nutrition, exercise and sleep, social and mental stimulation is key in preventing and treating neurodegenerative diseases, experts say.

“If we miss the opportunity to treat treatable conditions, then they can develop dementia,” she told DW.

It is difficult to determine the causes of neurological damage that could be a precursor to dementia. But scientists have identified several factors that increase the likelihood of this happening. The Lancet Committee on Dementia Prevention lists 12 major risks: low education levels, high blood pressure, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, lack of physical activity, diabetes, lack of social contact, as well as excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury, and pollution air. Recent research has also highlighted a link between sexual abuse and dementia.

The good news is that the majority of these risks can be reduced through changes in behavior, Bocardi notes. “If we as individuals or our governments do something concrete to reduce these risk factors, we could avoid up to 40% of cases of dementia,” she told DW.

So, how can we prevent dementia?

Many risks stem from a lack of stimulation – physical, social and mental.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet — low in sugar and saturated fat, and free from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption — can reduce the risks associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood pressure and depression. So can healthy sleep patterns – not too little or too much. A large study published in 2021 found that people in their 50s and 60s who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop dementia later in life.

Some research also suggests that dancing can be a powerful antidote to lost brain function.

study in New England Journal of Medicine 469 people over the age of 75 participated, and they found that “dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.” By stimulating both the mind and the body, dancing offers a twofold benefit: Besides engaging the brain, which requires memory, coordination, and cognition, the physical activity of dancing can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, some factors have more to do with privilege and opportunity – such as low levels of education, brain injury, assault, air pollution and, in many cases, obesity. These risks are not easily modified.

Why is early detection and treatment so important?

Often, by the time patients begin to notice the impact of the neurodegenerative disease on their daily lives — memory loss and tremors, for example — the disease has been running for many years and it is too late to reverse the damage. Brain changes such as the buildup of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, are known to begin about 15 to 20 years before patients show cognitive impairment.

That’s why early detection is important, Bocardi says, because this allows for treatment.

The early stages of dementia tend to start with forgetfulness, losing track of time and getting lost in familiar places. Anxiety and depression can also be early indicators that something is not right, especially for younger patients.

And while many people can experience these things without suffering from a serious illness, Bocardi advises pay attention if you find yourself thinking “Oh, that’s not really me” and find it worrying. The same goes for family members. “If you notice relevant changes in behavior in family members that they may not notice or may be hiding, now is the time to get a medical exam,” she said.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore it, Bocardi says — including when someone receives a neurological diagnosis, because isolation and no treatment will only make the condition worse.

“The fear and stigma around dementia keeps people from doing what you should actually do — keep socializing, keep doing things and being active, doing what you can do, which is often too much.”

Editor: Claire Roth

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