The World Health Organization this week issued its first international guidelines for lifestyle changes to stave off dementia.

Meanwhile, however, a new study from the University of Michigan finds that older Americans are reluctant to discuss the subject with their doctors.

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
World Health Organization

Almost half (48%) of the respondents in the University of Michigan study indicated they thought it likely that they would develop dementia at some point in their lifetime.

The study also found that “Despite widespread concerns about developing dementia and engagement in strategies aimed at preventing dementia, very few respondents reported having ever discussed dementia prevention with their doctor.”

World Health Organization guidelines

The WHO guidelines prescribe regular exercise; avoiding smoking or excessive use of alcohol; maintaining a healthy weight; eating a healthy diet; and controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

As CNN points out, the report recommends a Mediterranean-style diet, with plenty of plant-based nutrients and olive oil as well as limited consumption of meat.

Research is less encouraging about the consumption of dietary supplements, including vitamins, failing to find a strong correlation in staving off dementia.

The findings are the product of WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory, which the organization launched in December 2017. The observatory compiles information about steps countries are taking to prevent dementia and care for those with dementia symptoms.

The current guidelines are based on data from 21 countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, France, Japan, Jordan and Togo, and 80 countries are providing data to the team.

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

“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.”

Getting the latest information on dementia prevention and treatment will be a challenge for Americans in their 50s and 60s, judging from the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Pills and puzzles

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they take dietary supplements or do puzzles to stay cognitively sharp. Neither measure has been found to help stave off dementia in studies, including the new WHO report.

“Don’t focus on worrying about what might happen, or the products you can buy that promise to help, but rather focus on what you can do now that research has proven to help.”

Meanwhile, only 5% of the group said they have discussed the subject with their doctors or received medically proven guidance on dementia prevention.

Despite respondents’ reticence about speaking with medical professionals, dementia is a worry for nearly half of the individuals polled. That number is far higher than the 20% of adults age 65 or older who will lose cognitive ability.

“For anyone who wants to stay as sharp as possible as they age, the evidence is clear: Focus on your diet, your exercise, your sleep and your blood pressure,” advised poll director Preeti Malani, M.D. “Don’t focus on worrying about what might happen, or the products you can buy that promise to help, but rather focus on what you can do now that research has proven to help.”

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