Majority don’t know lifestyle increases dementia risk

Most people are not aware of lifestyle factors which increase risk of dementia. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
Most people are not aware of lifestyle factors which increase risk of dementia. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
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Most people are unaware of all the lifestyle factors which can increase the risk of dementia, a survey has found.

Most people are unaware of all the lifestyle factors which can increase the risk of dementia, a survey has found.

With no known cure, there is increasing evidence that steps can be taken to try to reduce a person’s risk of a dementia as experts warn it is “not an inevitable part of ageing”.

Findings from a survey commissioned by Public Health England reveal just two per cent of Brits are able to correctly identify all the potentially changeable factors which can increase the risk of dementia.

These factors include and relate to alcohol consumption, smoking, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes and low exercise levels.

The figures, part of the 2015 British Social Attitudes survey, found “the lowest levels of knowledge exist in relation to high blood pressure and diabetes” - with just 15 per cent realising high blood pressure increases the chance of getting dementia.

Meanwhile, just 14 per cent of people know that those with diabetes are more likely to get dementia.

While 27 per cent of the 2,176 survey respondents incorrectly believed there is nothing anyone can do to reduce their risks of getting the condition, a further 28 per cent were also unable to correctly identify any potentially modifiable risk factors.

With growing evidence that as many as a third of dementia cases could be a result of controllable factors, Dr Charles Alessi, senior dementia advisor at PHE, said: “Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing.

“What’s good for the heart is good for the brain and simple steps like giving up smoking, reducing alcohol intake, losing weight and taking regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing dementia in the future.

“In the absence of a cure for dementia, prevention is the best means we have to reduce its impact on the public.”

With age considered to be the biggest risk factor in developing the condition, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

In the UK there are around 850,000 people living with dementia - with that number predicted to exceed two million by 2050 according to Public Health England.

Dr Matthew Norton, director of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said public awareness is “essential” for empowering people to make changes and lower their chances of developing the condition.

“While we don’t yet have sure-fire preventions, research suggests keeping healthy from mid-life could help reduce the risk of dementia,” he added.

“With 850,000 people already living with dementia in the UK, we must do all we can to help people understand the risk factors for dementia now if we are to influence dementia rates in the future.”

The survey also found that the public “has a good knowledge of the symptoms of dementia”, with over a third (35 per cent) able to classify between eight and 10 symptoms correctly.

These symptoms include difficulty in recognising people, feeling lost in new places, slower thinking and losing track of time.

Susan Reid, research director at the National Centre for Social Research who carried out the survey, said the results “draw attention to the high levels of uncertainty among the public regarding dementia risk factors”.

“Whilst most people are able to recognise dementia symptoms, many believe there’s nothing anyone can do to reduce their risk. But this isn’t the case,” she added.

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