THE NHS today calls on Britons to make eight simple lifestyle changes to cut their risk of developing dementia. As the population ages, the number of people living with the condition in the UK is expected to rise to one million within two years.
Outlining NHS England’s plans for the future of dementia care, chief executive Simon Stevens told the Daily Express the health service is doing all it can to provide the best possible support. But he urged the public to “act now” and play their part because “as a society, we must meet this challenge together”. Mr Stevens said: “The time to take action is now. Nobody is too young or too old to take simple steps to improve their health and reduce their risk of devastating conditions like dementia, heart attacks and stroke – and of course, the NHS will always be there with world-leading care for those who need it.
“Helping people live well into older age is one of the biggest issues facing health and care services and few of us will go through life without being touched in some way by dementia, either personally or as a family.”
Around 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK.
An estimated 700,000 Britons care for a family member with the condition, meaning the number affected is more than 1.5 million.
Mr Stevens said: “As a society, we need to meet this challenge together, so our long term plan is helping to future-proof the NHS by joining up services, investing in family GPs, and bringing in world-leading technology to give the best possible care.
“Alongside the work of the NHS, everyone, young and old, should think about taking simple steps to stay as well as possible for as long as possible, because the good news is that risk factors for stroke and heart attacks are the same as those for some dementias: what’s good for our hearts is good for our heads.”
Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding.
There is currently no cure, but Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health, said simple lifestyle changes could help prevent the disease.
Eight key steps include maintaining a healthy diet, weight and exercise habits, quitting smoking and not drinking too much alcohol.
Tackling loneliness, seeking treatment for depression if needed and attending the free NHS health check offered to people aged 40 to 74 can also help.
Prof Burns said: “By paying attention to a good diet, exercise and looking after heart risk factors like high cholesterol, we can reduce our risks of developing dementia.
“For anyone in middle and older age, improvements in health can have huge benefits. The message is simple: it’s never too soon – and there is no wrong time to get in good shape for a long healthy life.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said it is vital more people are made aware they can lower their risk of dementia.
“More than a third of dementia cases are potentially avoidable through lifestyle changes,” he said last month. “Good for the heart, good for the lungs, but also good for the brain. And yet barely a third of people know this.
“There are millions of people who are living in fear of a disease that they could potentially reduce their risk of developing if they make some fairly simple lifestyle changes.”
Alzheimer’s Society is studying 700 people to understand how their lifestyles in middle age can influence brain health.
Policy and campaigns director Sally Copley said: “Dementia is the biggest health challenge of our generation.
“There is still a lack of firm evidence on how exactly we should tackle the many risk factors of dementia, which is why we’re funding the UK’s largest study.
“But while we progress our research, we urgently need to tackle the dire state of social care – the success of the NHS Long Term Plan depends on this.”
EIGHT SIMPLE STEPS WE CAN ALL TAKE
1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Follow the Government’s Eatwell Guide. A diet low in fibre and high in saturated fat, salt and sugar can increase your risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
If overweight or obese, just losing five to 10 per cent of the excess weight can help reduce your risk of dementia.
3. Exercise regularly. 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking, cycling or dancing. Do strengthening exercises like gardening or yoga twice a week.
4. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Advice is no more than 14 units a week for everyone.
5. Quit smoking. Smoking causes narrowed arteries, which can raise blood pressure, and heightens the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
6. Seek help if you think you could be depressed. Talk to your GP, who may refer you for counselling or talking therapies.
7. Have the free NHS health check if aged 40-74. It can help spot early problems and tell you if you have a higher risk of factors that can increase your risk of dementia.
8. Seek help to combat loneliness. Talking to people and keeping the mind active can help slow cognitive decline and lower the dementia risk.
Comment by Alistair Burns
So many of us know the impact dementia can have. Almost every Daily Express reader will know someone with dementia, or who is a carer.
The number of people who are at risk of developing dementia is rising.
This is a cloud on the horizon, not only for the families who will have to adapt to huge changes but for the NHS and our partner organisations who need to rise to meet the challenges of demographic change.
But the silver lining of that cloud is that the NHS is stepping up. The number of people who are getting a timely dementia diagnosis by the NHS has increased and our Long Term Plan sets out a blueprint for better care in older age.
It has practical, yet ambitious, measures to address dementia and associated issues of older people’s mental health. We are continuing to support GPs in referring patients to memory clinics and are doing more to support diagnosis efforts in care homes.
And new treatments are developing and improving, including cognitive rehabilitation, where people get personalised support, tailored to their circumstances.
Someone with dementia may be anxious about new, but essential, technology so cognitive rehabilitation can take people through some simple steps, helping them to feel at ease, manage their condition and reassure their family.
Beyond dementia, we’ve been working with Age UK and GPs to improve awareness of depression and anxiety in older people, so if someone visits their family doctor when they hit 65, symptoms aren’t simply written off as a sign of ageing.
What’s more, for those who do need support for common mental illnesses, our world-leading programme of talking therapies has been particularly effective for those aged 65 and over. It is also available to carers, who can find that the pressure of their responsibility has an impact on their mental wellbeing.
The NHS continues to futureproof the health service for our ageing population, but society as a whole can take small, but important steps which can limit the impact of this growing health and social care challenge.
The message is simple: it’s never too soon – and there is no wrong time – to get in good shape for a long and healthy life.
The NHS will be there every step of the way.
By HANNA GEISSLER, HEALTH CORRESPONDENT