Healthy living could prevent a THIRD of dementia cases, saving tens of thousands of people from developing the illness, expert says
- Professor Alistair Burns is now the national clinical lead for dementia in the NHS
- He says a combination of ‘simple lifestyle interventions’ can help with disease
- These include learning a new language or just walking a little further each day
- You can help send a message: Sign our petition at change.org/dementiacare
Tens of thousands could avoid dementia by making basic changes to their lifestyle, according to a senior NHS doctor.
Professor Alistair Burns said up to a third of cases were potentially preventable as they were linked to diet, inactivity or poor brain health.
He stressed that a combination of ‘simple lifestyle interventions’ at any age would dramatically reduce a person’s risk.
These include learning a new language, walking a little further each day, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels and staying in touch with loved ones.
Professor Alistair Burns stressed that a combination of ‘simple lifestyle interventions’ at any age would dramatically reduce a person’s risk (stock image)
Professor Alistair Burns (pictured) said up to a third of cases were potentially preventable as they were linked to diet, inactivity or poor brain health
Professor Burns, the national clinical lead for dementia in the NHS, said these interventions would also help patients already diagnosed with the illness.
While exercise and social activities will not halt the disease’s biological advance, they can help alleviate the withdrawal and isolation that can come with it, he said.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics last week showed dementia is responsible for one in eight deaths. Around 850,000 adults live with the condition, which experts say is the ‘biggest health crisis of our time’.
The Daily Mail launched a campaign last month urging the Government to end the scandal of families having to pay for their loved ones’ care.
Daytime naps ‘sign of Alzheimer’s’
Falling asleep in the daytime could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research.
It found brain cells that help keep us awake during the day are the first to go in those affected by the illness.
Researchers discovered that an accumulation of a protein called tau kills off these brain cells.
Regular dozing in patients has previously been reported by both researchers and carers long before their memory problems began to unfold.
Now a US team who analysed the brains of dead patients has discovered disease-related neural changes may lead to the daytime sleeping. Lead author Dr Jun Oh, based at the Memory and Ageing Centre at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘It is remarkable because it is not just a single brain nucleus that is degenerating, but the whole wakefulness-promoting network.
‘Crucially this means the brain has no way to compensate because all of these functionally related cell types are being destroyed at the same time.’
The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s And Dementia, found three areas of the brain that boost wakefulness had lost up to 75 per cent of their neurons. They also had a significant build-up of tau.
Professor Burns, a psychiatrist who specialises in dementia, described the campaign as ‘important’.
He said: ‘There are huge opportunities in terms of the potential of tens of thousands of people preventing dementia if we take some simple lifestyle interventions.
‘There’s no doubt that many people don’t realise that but I think things are changing. It’s never too early to start and it’s never too late to start.’
He added a good diet is ‘really important’, along with exercise. This could simply be choosing to walk up stairs or get off the train or bus a stop before your destination and walk the final stretch.
On alcohol, Professor Burns advised moderation, explaining: ‘What we say is a glass of wine a day prevents dementia, a bottle of wine gives you dementia.’ He also stressed the importance of family and friends, saying: ‘Keep up your social networks. Loneliness is a big issue – people who are lonely are twice as likely to develop dementia.’
Learning a new musical instrument or a language could also help.
Professor Burns said there were several risk factors that ‘tend to club together’, for example, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight.
There are around 225,000 new diagnoses of dementia in England each year. If Professor Burns’ predictions are accurate, about 75,000 could potentially be prevented.
Referring to the impact of lifestyle changes on patients who already have dementia, he said: ‘After someone gets a diagnosis, they kind of withdraw into themselves.
‘But social networks – singing for the brain, swimming for the brain – are really important. It doesn’t slow down the biology of the disease but in terms of the effects, these things will be very helpful indeed.’
Professor Burns added: ‘Although NHS England recently recorded the highest monthly dementia diagnoses on record, there are still people living with dementia who do not have a diagnosis.
‘This is why the Daily Mail’s campaign is so important as it’s helping to raise awareness of the condition.’
You can help send a message: Sign our petition change.org/dementiacare