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New research suggests the dementia threat may be ‘less severe’ than predicted, so long as people take preventative health and lifestyle steps to reduce their risk

It may seem like the doom and gloom of ever-rising dementia rates is in the news every day. But a new study by researchers from Cambridge, East Anglia and Newcastle Universities believe that the predicted explosion of dementia cases may not be as severe as previously thought.

After studying 7,500 people living in Cambridgeshire, Nottingham and Newcastle in the 1990s and then revisiting those people twenty years later, they noticed that the proportion of dementia cases had fallen by a fifth.

The drop was most noticeable in men, and the researchers believe this is because there’s been an overall improvement in men’s health, including less smoking, less salt and fat in food, greater emphasis on exercise, lower blood pressure levels and greater use of statins to tackle cholesterol as well as an increase in education levels.

However, cases in women (who make up two thirds of dementia cases in total) had remained steady.

Professor Carol Brayne, from the University of Cambridge, says:

‘I’m pretty optimistic that it’s stabilising, but if we don’t further improve health, then we would expect the numbers to go up with further ageing of the population, so it’s a sort of cautious optimism.’

Some have counselled a certain degree of caution around the study. Firstly, it was a relatively small study size of 7,500 people (compared to some longitudinal studies) and was only carried out in three areas of England.

Secondly, other factors such as rising obesity and diabetes may reverse this trend if people don’t start taking control of their health.

James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the research was encouraging, but added:

‘People are living for longer, and with other risk factors such as diabetes and obesity on the rise, there will still be over 200,000 new cases of dementia each year. That’s still an enormous number of people who require better information and health and social care support.’

What’s more, improvements in training and awareness mean dementia is diagnosed earlier. So although there may be less people being diagnosed from a certain age, when added to those cases that are now picked up earlier, it may level out the numbers.

The take home message is once again that lifestyle factors can have a major effect in reducing your risk and improving your brain health.

This research appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

For tips on improving your health to slow down memory loss and reduce your dementia risk, click here.

Source: theguardian.com/uk & bbc.co.uk