A national dementia prevention campaign should be developed in order to educate and support the public about lifestyle changes that could reduce its risk, a new report has argued.
Unveiled by the Mitchell Institute health policy think tank earlier this year, the Improving Brain and Body Health paper, supported by more than 50 leading health organisations, also recommends GPs should assess all Australians for dementia lifestyle risk factors during their middle years and greater investment into dementia research.
The paper’s author, Adjunct Professor Maria Duggan from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, said the economic cost of dementia would soar to $18.7 billion a year by 2025 when more than half a million people are expected to be living with the disease.
There is currently 447,000 people living with dementia in Australia.
“People are unaware that they can change the course of their dementia risk by considering lifestyle choices,” Adjunct Professor Duggan explained.
“The government is spending little on prevention programs and missing the huge potential to save the healthcare system significant money and allow Australians to live longer, healthier lives.
People can reduce the risk factors linked to dementia and potentially slow its decline if they have the condition by maintaining a healthy body weight, proper diet, regular exercise and cutting alcohol intake.
“Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process. We can identify those at high risk of dementia 20 years before they show symptoms, allowing people to make changes to avoid the disease.
“Government should act to ensure that all Australians undertake the Absolute Cardiovascular Risk Assessment in midlife with their GP. Those at risk should be offered support to improve their health, such as being supported to exercise, improve diet, lose weight and quit smoking.”
Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said a healthy brain starts with a healthy heart, being physically and socially active and challenging your brain.
“Lifestyle factors have a significant impact on the health of the brain and making positive changes will benefit your whole body, including your brain. It is never too late for people to modify their lifestyle to lower their risk of dementia.”