From cholesterol to diet: New guidelines reveal ways to ‘reduce dementia risk’

The WHO released new guidelines on dementia prevention this week. Source: Getty.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia with more than 447,115 people currently living with the condition across the country and around 50 million people affected worldwide. Now, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released new guidelines which highlight six ways that people can try to lower their risk of developing dementia, as the number of people being diagnosed is set to continue to rise.

The key message is that a healthy lifestyle can help to lower your risk of dementia, with the WHO stressing the importance of getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and managing your weight. The guidelines, released earlier this week, also highlight the benefits of avoiding “harmful use” of alcohol, not smoking 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,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“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 guidelines were developed for use by health care providers and governments around the world.

While some of the recommendations were found to have a direct impact on dementia risk, such as consuming a healthy and balanced diet, others, including managing hypertension, were not definitive. However, researchers recommended these regardless, as they can benefit health in other ways.

The guidelines also found no support for the consumption of supplements and vitamins as a way to prevent dementia, as well a finding no link between leading a more social lifestyle and a reduced risk.

Read more: Researchers develop new tool to reduce anxiety and depression in dementia carers

Earlier this month, researchers from Northwestern University in the US revealed a new method to help carers cope with feelings of anxiety and depression by focusing on positive emotions. After six weeks, carers were found to experience less anxiety and depression and reported better physical health and positive attitudes.

The method includes eight skills designed to increase positive emotions, including noticing and capitalising on positive events, gratitude, mindfulness, positive reappraisal, personal strengths, attainable goals and acts of kindness. The trial saw 170 dementia caregivers randomly assigned to one of two groups.

The first intervention group learned positive emotion skills through sessions called LEAF (life enhancing activities for family caregivers). These participants were asked to recognise daily positive events and keep a gratitude journal. A second control group simply filled out daily questionnaires about their emotions.

In six weekly sessions, caregivers reviewed positive emotion skills and were asked to practice the skills learned. For example, if the topic was an act of kindness, participants would be asked to practice an act of kindness.

Researchers noted LEAF participants had a 7 per cent greater drop in depression and a 9 per cent greater drop in anxiety compared to the control group. Depression symptoms also decreased from moderate levels to a normal range, while participants in the control group saw small decreases but remained within the mild to moderate range of depressive symptoms.

What are your thoughts on this story? Do you care for a loved one with dementia? Are you worried about developing the condition?

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