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People can reduce their risk of dementia by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The new guidelines aim to provide a knowledge base for healthcare providers, governments, policymakers and planning authorities to encourage healthy lifestyles and prevent cognitive decline and dementia.

Dementia is an illness characterised by a continued deterioration in cognitive function. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement. Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.

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

The reduction of risk factors for dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s global action plan for the public health response to dementia. Other areas include: strengthening information systems for dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; supporting carers of people with dementia; and research and innovation.

WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory, launched in December 2017, is a compilation of information about country activities and resources for dementia, such as national plans, dementia-friendly initiatives, awareness campaigns and facilities for care. Data from 21 countries has been included, with a total of 80 countries now engaged in providing data.

Creating national policies and plans for dementia are among WHO’s key recommendations for countries in their efforts to manage this growing health challenge.

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