Dementia affects a great number of Americans, up to 5 million people, in fact. Despite its pervasive effects, however, dementia is poorly understood. But thanks to researchers, we now know that improving lifestyle and curbing health factors like obesity, smoking, and depression can help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Historically, one of the main issues has been the nebulous understanding of dementia. That is because dementia is a symptom rather than a disease. Or more accurately, it is a set of symptoms including problem-solving issues, difficulty with language, memory loss, and loss of cognitive functions.
“There’s been a great deal of focus on developing medicines to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.” Lon Schneider, who worked on the report, said in a statement. “But we can’t lose sight of the real major advances we’ve already made in treating dementia, including preventive approaches,”
In addition to the three risk factors listed above, other factors that were seen to have an effect on the likelihood an individual would suffer from dementia include poor education, hypertension, lack of physical activity, diabetes, lack of social contact, and hearing loss.
Unfortunately, there has been very little progress in identifying a way to undo the effects of dementia once it has already manifested. The key, then, becomes to increase awareness of how these nine factors can combine to contribute to dementia and focus on addressing the root of the issue. By addressing each of the nine factors, they found that individuals were up to 35% less likely to suffer from dementia related symptoms.
But not all of these issues are easily manageable. Loss of hearing is particularly concerning, with one in eight Americans, or 30 million, over the age of 12 have hearing loss in both ears. Additionally, 15% of Americans between 20 and 69 have experienced hearing loss as the result of exposure to noise pollution from work or other activities.
On that front at least, the researchers seem optimistic.
“The message that dementia, alongside heart disease, stroke, and cancer can be prevented through effective implementation of public health strategies is one that policy makers and public need to hear, and act on,” the report, which was published in Lancet, says. “More research is needed, in more settings, over longer periods to estimate trends more precisely, and their regional variation.”