NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – One-third of cases of dementia worldwide could potentially be prevented through better management of lifestyle factors such as smoking, hypertension, depression, and hearing loss over the course of a lifetime, according to a new report.
Across the globe, about 47 million people were living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in 2015. That number is projected to triple by the year 2050 as the population ages. Health care costs associated with dementia are enormous, with an estimated $818 billion price tag in 2015.
The new study, published in The Lancet and conducted by the first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care, brought together 24 international experts to review existing dementia research and provide recommendations for treating and preventing the devastating condition.
“Dementia is the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century,” lead study author Professor Gill Livingston, of University College London, told CBS News. “The purpose of the commission was therefore to address it by consolidating the huge strides and emerging knowledge as to what we should do to prevent dementia and intervene and care for people with dementia.”
There is currently no drug treatment to prevent or cure dementia. But the report highlights the impact of non-drug interventions and identifies nine modifiable risk factors through various stages of life — beginning in childhood — that affect the likelihood of developing dementia.
To reduce the risk, factors that make a difference include getting an education (staying in school until over the age of 15); reducing high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes; avoiding or treating hearing loss in mid-life; not smoking; getting physical exercise; and reducing depression and social isolation later in life. About 35 percent of dementia cases are attributable to these factors, the analysis found. Removing them could then theoretically prevent 1 in 3 cases.