This year’s World Alzheimer Report is out, and plenty about it is scary. In 35 years, the number of people worldwide living with dementia will be around 131.5 million, up from today’s 46 million, writes Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), which produces the report.
Dementia also has a huge economic impact. Today, the total estimated worldwide cost of dementia is US $818 billion, and it will become a trillion dollar disease by 2018. This means that if dementia care were a country, it would be the world’s 18th largest economy, more than the market values of companies such as Apple (US$ 742 billion), Google (US$ 368 billion) and Exxon (US$ 357 billion).
In many parts of the world, there is a growing awareness of dementia, but across the globe it remains the case that a diagnosis of dementia can bring with it stigma and social isolation. Today, we estimate that 94% of people living with dementia in low and middle income countries are cared for at home. These are regions where health and care systems often provide limited or no support to people living with dementia or to their families.
Every three seconds, someone in the world develops dementia, ADI reports. It calls on governments, employers, and all of us to promote research, reject stigma, and make care and prevention part of the weave of community life.
While we do all that, there also are a number of personal lifestyle changes we can make that could lower their risk of developing problems. A study published last year in Lancet Neurology estimated that about one-third of the Alzheimer’s cases in Western countries are attributable to just seven lifestyle-related “modifiable risk factors.” That suggests that, while most cases may be unavoidable (the other 2/3), a great many may be preventable or delay-able via simple changes in diet and other habits—changes that tend to benefit health generally. The sooner a person starts making these changes, the better the preventive effects are likely to be.
Writer Jim Schnabel expanded on that list earlier this year, finding and describing the studies used to support its conclusions in a lengthy story for us, “How to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Without Taking Drugs.” (also a PDF version). Here’s the short version; each item has a section in the story:
- Stay physically active
- Avoid depression, maintain purpose
- Avoid chronic stress
- Stop smoking
- Avoid obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and vascular disease
- Eat better
- Consider eating less
- Drink moderately if at all
- Reduce your inflammation
- Keep up your levels of vitamin D
- Avoid head injury
- Get smart?
- Get enough sleep—but not too much
This year, we also released an updated Staying Sharp booklet, “Successful Aging and the Brain,” (PDF), which describes in general how our brains change as we age, in health and in illness. At the end, it offers a Checklist for a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle (page 32). Support for the booklet also comes from AARP and MetLife Foundation.