Dementia: Can we reduce the risk?

Marc Wortmann, Executive Director Alzheimer’s Disease International

September is World Alzheimer’s Month. Today’s guest author, Marc Wortmann, the Executive Director at Alzheimer’s Disease International talks about the international campaign and the recommendations laid out by this year’s annual report.

World Alzheimer’s Month is the global awareness month for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. This is an important month to have because in large parts of the world dementia is still considered a normal part of ageing, rather than a disease of the brain. Alzheimer’s Disease International coordinates awareness and public policy efforts and uses this month to launch its World Alzheimer Report.

This year, the World Alzheimer Report 2014 focuses on modifiable risk factors. It shows there is strong evidence that cardiovascular risk factors, as well as low education, contribute to the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. For the cardiovascular factors there is particularly strong evidence for hypertension in mid-life, and smoking and diabetes in mid and late life. The impact of other lifestyle factors, like physical activity, healthy diet and social engagement is more difficult to measure, but they may also contribute as they will impact heart diseases and diabetes. Altogether this leads to the positive message that it is possible to reduce your risk on getting dementia.

This message very much relates to the current global discussion on non-communicable diseases. Driven by the World Health Organization and the NCD Alliance and accelerated by a UN Summit on NCDs in 2011, this topic now dominates the global health agenda, with a focus on cancer, heart and lung diseases and diabetes. It is important that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as other neurological and mental disorders are included in the policies that are now developed. The majority of people in the world die from chronic diseases and this will only increase with further ageing of the world population.

Adding dementia to this global health agenda can also be good for the position of the elderly and their care and treatment. Global health policies are still focusing on ‘premature mortality’ but in the meantime health and social care costs are exploding as a result of the growing numbers of people with chronic conditions. And dementia is the most expensive disease. So both from a human rights perspective (equal attention for all ages) and as a financial perspective it is important to make dementia a global health priority.


View the latest posts on the On Health homepage