‘More research needed’ after global cost of dementia reaches £632bn

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More investment in dementia prevention is being urged after the global cost of caring for people with the condition reached £632bn a year.

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found dementia now affects 50m people worldwide and diagnoses are likely to triple by 2050.

New guidelines have been issued to improve lifestyle choices linked to the condition by the organisation, which said that age is the strongest risk factor for dementia but the disease is not an inevitable consequence of growing older.

It found lifestyle factors like physical inactivity, smoking, unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol consumption significantly increased the threat of the disease.

Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and depression also played a role in the development of dementia.

A review of previous studies also identified a link between social isolation, cognitive inactivity and hearing loss and the condition.

The report’s authors said: “The vision of the action plan is a world in which dementia is prevented and people with dementia and their carers live well and receive the care and support they need to fulfil their potential with dignity, respect, autonomy and equality.”

Following publication of the guidelines, WHO said it would continue to collect regular feedback from 80 countries to evaluate their usefulness and impact.

Robert Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, said: “The guidelines are based on a comprehensive and carefully conducted review of the published literature and are sensible but unsurprising.

“Like many colleagues, I already tell my patients that what is good for their hearts is probably good for their brains.”

He added that the WHO study highlighted a lack of comprehensive evidence of the causes of dementia and should be “a call to arms” for investment in dementia prevention trials.

Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is the biggest health challenge of our generation, so the WHO’s clear commitment to spearheading the global fight against the condition through a public health approach is to be welcomed.”

She echoed calls for greater research in a bid to address the evidence gap, adding that the Alzheimer’s Society is funding the UK’s largest study to date on mid-life dementia to tackle the issue.