September is Alzheimer’s Disease International’s (ADI) World Alzheimer’s Month. Raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is as critical as ever to bolster medical research, mend the public’s misconceptions, and improve care for those isolated by the disease. We spoke to Marc Wortmann, Executive Director for ADI, about the risk factors around dementia, and what can be done to lower one’s chances of developing it in later life.
1. What puts people at greatest risk of developing dementia?
Cardiovascular risk factors, like hypertension (especially in mid-life), smoking and diabetes appear to be the strongest risk factors for dementia. The other factor is low education. The first one is very much related to other main non communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes, the last one is more typical for dementia.
2. How important is lifestyle in preventing the onset of dementia?
The impact of other lifestyle factors, like physical activity, healthy diet and social engagement is more difficult to measure, but they also may contribute. Altogether this leads to the positive message that you might be able to reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
3. Can you explain the link between education and dementia?
We don’t yet fully understand the process, but a likely explanation is that someone with a better education will develop more cognitive reserve so that when some parts of the brain are damaged there is still capacity elsewhere to compensate and the dementia symptoms may occur later in life.
4. Is there any evidence to claim that lifestyle changes will prevent dementia on an individual basis?
Despite all this evidence there is never a guarantee for an individual not to be affected by the disease, it is only a reduction of your risk. On a population basis the impact may be significant and account for 10-20% less cases of dementia if everybody lives a healthy life.
5. Would you want to know what kind of neurological disorder you had even if there was no cure?
Yes, if I had some concerns I would want to know and get myself tested, because you can better live with a disorder if you know what it is, for instance by reaching out to peers. It is also better for your family and it allows you to think about planning for the future.
Read ADI’s latest report, the World Alzheimer Report 2014, to get up to speed on where we stand against the rising tide of dementia.
Marc Wortmann is Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI). Marc studied Law and Art in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands and was a member of the Parliament of the Province of Utrecht and worked closely with various charities and voluntary organisations. He became Executive Director of Alzheimer Nederland in 2000. Marc joined ADI by the end of 2006 and is responsible for external contacts, public policy and fundraising. He is a speaker at multiple events and conferences on these topics and has published a number of articles and papers on dementia awareness and public policy.