Inactivity a dementia burden: report

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)


Reducing the burden of dementia may all start with being more active, a new Australian report suggests.

There’s currently no cure for dementia but there is a growing body of evidence that the lifestyle choices people make now can reduce a person’s risk – or at the very least delay the onset – of the debilitating brain disease.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, released on Wednesday, supports this.

It shows that about 30 per cent of the total dementia burden in 2011 was due to vascular diseases and other risk factors, such as smoking and inactivity.

“A significant proportion of dementia burden is preventable and reductions are possible,” said AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon.

According to the report, behavioural risk factors contribute eight per cent of dementia burden.

Of that eight per cent, physical inactivity is the biggest contributor (eight per cent), followed by tobacco use (five per cent).

High blood pressure and obesity in mid-life were the two metabolic risk factors that contributed the greatest to the dementia burden.

Among the vascular diseases that pose a risk, chronic kidney disease was the biggest contributor.

Dementia is a serious and growing health problem in Australia, affecting three in 10 over the age of 85 and one in 10 people aged 65 or over.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study (ABDS) 2011 estimated that dementia was responsible for 3.4 per cent of the total health burden due to disease and injury in Australia.

Dr Moon says what the report importantly highlights is that there are prospects for prevention.

Physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking all have quite an impact on dementia risk, she said.

“If people were more physically active across the whole population then that would have a large impact, as would eliminating smoking,” said Dr Moon.

Diabetes, stroke, chronic disease also have a flow on effect to increase people’s risk.

“So if we can prevent and treat those diseases as well then the expected outcome would be lower dementia burden in the population,” added Dr Moon.

In fact modelling by the AIHW showed the burden of dementia would be reduced by 14 per cent if Australia met the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2020 risk factor targets compared to doing nothing.

Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Maree McCabe concedes there may never be a dementia “magic bullet” and says lifestyle factors can make a big difference.

Just half an hour of daily physical activity is a good start, says Ms McCabe.

“If we could just delay the onset of dementia by five years it would reduce the number of people diagnosed with dementia by 30 per cent,” she said.

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