There is no cure for dementia, the term that encompasses a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities. It is diagnosed when these mental impairments are severe enough to interfere with a person's daily life. Different diseases and conditions can cause dementia. It is not a specific disease.

Prevention is the best defense against developing dementia. In 2017 the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care identified nine risk factors for dementia. It has now added three more.

Forty percent of dementia cases could be delayed or prevented if a person is able to modify these 12 risk factors over a lifetime.

Hypertension, obesity, smoking, depression, less education early in life, hearing loss in midlife, social isolation, physical inactivity and diabetes diagnosed at age 65 or older made up the first set of risk factors related to dementia.

Upon reviewing further findings in the field, however, the commission noted three more — excessive alcohol intake, head injury in midlife and chronic exposure to air pollution in later life — and concluded that forty percent of dementia cases could be delayed or prevented if a person is able to modify these 12 risk factors over a lifetime.

Knowing the risk factors and making an effort to avoid or treat them can cut the chances that you or a loved one will develop the mental confusion that characterizes dementia. “We are learning that tactics to avoid dementia begin early and continue throughout life, so it's never too early or too late to take action,” said Lon Schneider, a member of the commission, in a statement.

Globally, dementia affects about 50 million people, with women more likely to develop it than men. That number is likely to triple over the next 30 years, especially in low- and middle-income countries where roughly two-thirds of people who have dementia live.

In some countries, such as the U.S., England and France, according to Schneider, the proportion of people with dementia has decreased, likely due to improvements in their lifestyles, further suggesting that making these sorts of lifestyle adjustments can reduce the risk of dementia.

The commission’s report was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, along with the following suggestions for policymakers and individuals to reduce the chance of dementia:

  • Starting at age 40, aim to keep systolic blood pressure at 130 mm HG or less.
  • Protect ears from high level noises to reduce hearing loss, and encourage the use of hearing aids for those with hearing loss.
  • Avoid exposure to air pollution and secondhand smoke.
  • Prevent head injury, especially for those in high-risk jobs.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • If you smoke, stop. Support others who are trying to stop smoking.
  • Make sure all children get at least a high school education.
  • Stay active throughout midlife and into later life, if possible.
  • Reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes.
  • The commission also supports holistic, individualized and evidence-based care for people with dementia who often are hospitalized for conditions that could be managed at home where there's a lower risk for COVID-19. Intervention for family caregivers who are often at risk for depression and anxiety is also recommended.

    The study is published in The Lancet.