UN health agency highlights lifestyle choices that can prevent onset of dementia, as millions more succumb each year

World Bank/Miso Lisanin An elderly woman rides her bike in Croatia (13 February 2013). New World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines stress the value of regular exercise to prevent the onset of dementia.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Key lifestyle choices such as getting regular exercise, not smoking or drinking too much, can reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline, the UN health agency said on Tuesday.

In recommendations to counter an expected tripling in the number of people with the degenerative condition in the next 30 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines are designed to help medical professionals and governments to develop national policies.

Today, around 50 million people globally suffer from dementia and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “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.”

According to WHO’s new guidelines, other lifestyle choices that people can make to reduce the risk of dementia include controlling their weight, eating healthily and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Last year, WHO provided support to countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Qatar, Slovenia and Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive, multi-sectoral public health response to dementia, it said in a statement.

Reducing the risk of lifestyle choices linked to dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to the illness.

Other areas include strengthening diagnosis, treatment and care, with a particular emphasis on online support for carers of people with dementia.

“Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones,” said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “This is why WHO created iSupport…an online training programme providing carers of people with dementia with advice on overall management of care, dealing with behaviour changes and how to look after their own health.”

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