By Opija Raduk

The World Health Organization released new guidelines on dementia which calls on people to reduce activities that risk causing the disease.

Dementia, an illness that causes deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal ageing, affects around 50 million people globally with nearly 10 million new cases every year.

According to new guidelines issued by WHO on 14 May, 2019, people can reduce their risk of dementia by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple, we need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement. Dementia is a major cause of disability and dependency among older people and results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer disease or stroke.

The World Alzheimer Report of 2015 named ‘The Global Impact of Dementia’ an analysis of prevalence, incidence, cost and trends, released in 2015, found that there are currently around 46.8 million people living with dementia around the world, with numbers projected to nearly double every 20 years, increasing to 74.7 million by 2030 and 131.5 million by 2050.

Additionally, the disease inflicts a heavy economic burden on societies as a whole, with the costs of caring for people with dementia estimated to rise to US$ 2 trillion annually by 2030.

The reduction of risk factors for dementia is one of the various areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to dementia. Other areas include: strengthening information systems for dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; supporting carers of people with dementia; and research and innovation.

WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory, launched in 2017, is a compilation of information about country activities and resources for dementia, such as national plans, dementia-friendly initiatives, awareness campaigns and facilities for care. Data from 21 countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, France, Japan, Jordan and Togo, have already been included, with a total of 80 countries now engaged in providing data.

Creating national policies and plans for dementia are among WHO’s key recommendations for countries in their efforts to manage this growing health challenge. During 2018, WHO provided support to countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Qatar, Slovenia and Sri Lanka to help them develop a comprehensive, multi-sectoral public health response to dementia.

“An essential element of every national dementia plan is support for carers of people with dementia. Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones. This is why WHO created iSupport. iSupport is an online training programme providing carers of people with dementia with advice on overall management of care, dealing with behaviour changes and how to look after their own health,” said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

iSupport is currently being used in eight countries, with more expected to follow.

The Guidelines issued give the knowledge base for health-care providers to inform patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. They will also be useful for governments, policy-makers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programmes that encourage healthy lifestyles.Contact: