After almost two decades, a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been approved in the US. However, some experts say it doesn’t really work — only treating amyloid plaques which are thought to cause the disease — and worry that it may cost a lot.
The amount of attention around this news reflects the importance of preventing dementia, with its devastating toll on families and patients. But millions of adults could lower their chances of needing such a drug by taking preventative measures.
That’s why a national panel of experts including the University of Michigan’s Deborah Levine, MD, MPH, recently published a guide for primary care providers on this topic as an official Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association.
People dread Alzheimer’s disease, she said. Helping people understand that they can prevent or slow future dementia by taking specific steps now could motivate them to increase their healthy behaviours for a positive effect.
The first step is to recognise that dementia risk is higher among people with seven major modifiable risk factors.
These are: depression, hypertension, physical inactivity, diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidaemia, poor diet, smoking, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders and hearing loss. Addressing each of these factors can, to varying extents, help reduce the risk of developing dementia, a fact backed by decades of research.
The second step is using medication, lifestyle change and other interventions to help patients reduce their dementia risk.
“Dementia is not inevitable,” said Dr Levine, a primary care provider at the University of Michigan Health, part of Michigan Medicine. “Evidence is growing that people can better maintain brain health and prevent dementia by following healthy behaviours and controlling vascular risk factors.”
These strategies can help preserve cognitive function and lower risk for heart attacks and strokes, said Dr Levine, who heads the Cognitive Health Services Research Program and sees patients at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
“We need to address the significant disparities that lead women, Black, Hispanic and less-educated Americans to have a much higher risk of dementia,” said Levine, a member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
She added that it’s never too late in life to start working on cognitive risk factor control.
“We have no treatments that will halt dementia – so it’s important to protect your brain health.”
Source: University of Michigan