DEMENTIA: Cutting the risks

Source: Public Health England

Just 2% of people in Britain can identify all the health and lifestyle factors that can increase risk of developing dementia.

More than a quarter (28%) of the British public is unable to correctly identify any potentially modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, according to new findings from the British Social Attitudes survey, which was commissioned by Public Health England (PHE).

There is growing evidence that a third of dementia cases could be a result of factors potentially in our control, and actions like taking regular exercise and not smoking can reduce your risk of developing it. This means there is huge potential for prevention.

The survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), asked the public if they could identify any of the following risk factors: heavy drinking, smoking, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes as well as the protective factor of taking regular exercise and found just 2% of the public is able to identify all of them.

Also, more than 1 in 4 people (27%) in Britain incorrectly believe that there is nothing anyone can do to reduce their risks of getting dementia.

Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement “there is nothing anyone can do to reduce their risks of getting dementia”. 27% incorrectly agree that there is nothing anyone can do; a further 26% neither agree nor disagree; and only 43% correctly disagreed with the statement.

Older people are more likely to agree that there is nothing anyone can do to reduce their risk of developing dementia: 33% of those aged 65 and over said this compared with 26% of those under 65.

Dr Charles Alessi, Senior Dementia Advisor at PHE, said:

Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain and simple steps like giving up smoking, reducing alcohol intake, losing weight and taking regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing dementia in the future.

In the absence of a cure for dementia, prevention is the best means we have to reduce its impact on the public. Today’s findings highlight the importance of PHE’s work on the NHS Health Check dementia pilot and campaigns like One You, which raise awareness of the fact it’s never too late to take control of your health and provide adults with personalised tools with which to do it.

Susan Reid, Research Director at NatCen, said:

Today’s results draw attention to the high levels of uncertainty among the public regarding dementia risk factors. Whilst most people are able to recognise dementia symptoms, many believe there’s nothing anyone can do to reduce their risk. But this isn’t the case.
Dr Matthew Norton, Director of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

Public awareness of the risk factors for dementia is essential for empowering people to make changes that may lower their chances of developing the condition. While we don’t yet have sure-fire preventions, research suggests keeping healthy from mid-life could help reduce the risk of dementia.

With 850,000 people already living with dementia in the UK, we must do all we can to help people understand the risk factors for dementia now if we are to influence dementia rates in the future.
George McNamara, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Society said:

There’s no better time than today to start making changes to your life and reduce your risk of dementia. A good way to begin is with regular physical activity – like a brisk walk or dancing – along with a healthy balanced diet.

Try and stop smoking, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check, and ensure you manage and get support for other health conditions. Keep your brain active too – research suggests people who do activities that stimulate the brain, like reading or puzzles, are less likely to develop dementia, compared with those who don’t.

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