"Crucially, while age is the strongest known risk factor for cognitive decline, dementia is not a natural or inevitable effect of aging", the organization explains. This disease is also becoming a major reason for dependency and disability among older people.
Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer disease or stroke. "The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time", the World Health Organization chief points out, "that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain".
Many health conditions and behaviors affect the odds of developing it, and research suggests that a third of cases are preventable, said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association, which has published similar advice. "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 agency said its new recommendations could provide the key to delaying or slowing cognitive decline or dementia.
"As numerous risk factors for dementia are shared with those of non-communicable diseases, the key recommendations can be effectively integrated into programmes for tobacco cessation, cardiovascular disease risk reduction and nutrition".
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They take a firm stance against vitamin pills, fish oil and other supplements, saying there's strong evidence they don't prevent mental decline.
"There is now no evidence to show that taking these supplements actually reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and in fact, we know that in high doses these can be harmful", says WHO's Technical Officer Neerja Chowdhary. Social activity is also important to maintain overall well being and the report states: "Social disengagement conversely, has been shown to place older individuals at increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia".
Among WHO's recommendations for managing this growing public health issue is the creation of national policies and plans.
Currently, iSupport is available for use in eight countries, with more expected to follow in the future. At the same time, "we do know that there are some risk factor for dementia that we can actually modify", Dr. Neerja Chowdhary of WHO's mental health and substance abuse division, told reporters in Geneva.
World Health Organisation Press Release. Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia.