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'Improve public health to slash dementia risk,' leaders claim

Tackling smoking, drinking, sedentary behaviour and poor diet could reduce the risk of dementia in later life, according to a statement from leading health professionals. 

Fifty-nine organisations and experts from across the dementia and public health community, including practitioners and researchers, have signed a consensus statement which is accompanied by a correspondence in The Lancet. 

The agreement, known as the Blackfriars Consensus Statement, highlights the need for a new national focus on dementia risk reduction. 

Scientific evidence on dementia risk reduction is evolving rapidly and is now sufficient to justify action to incorporate dementia risk reduction into health policies and to raise wider awareness about which factors can reduce the risk of developing dementia, the statement claims.  

Launched during Dementia Awareness Week (19-24 May), the statement is intended to help raise awareness among policy makers and the wider health and care workforce as well as the public that dementia is amenable to risk reduction in similar ways to other non-communicable diseases.

Paul Lincoln, chief executive officer of the UK Health Forum, one of the groups which signed the statement. said: "Protecting and promoting brain health has been a relatively neglected concept until now. The consensus today is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain.  In other words, effective public health policies to tackle the major chronic disease risk factors of smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol and poor diet across the population will help reduce the risk of dementia in later life. 

“It strengthens the case for action to create the physical and economic environments which will support people to lead healthier lives; for example, transport plans and investment that promote more walking and cycling as part of everyday life. Unless we tackle the root causes of the problem we will not achieve the scale or pace of improvement needed to curb the huge social and economic costs of dementia and other non-communicable diseases.” 

Dr Charles Alessi, senior advisor and dementia prevention lead at Public Health England, said: "The Blackfriars Consensus Statement is an important step in changing the way we think about dementia.  We need to start to "think brain, think heart" as brain health is inexorably linked to heart health and we can add healthy years to our lives by reducing risks earlier in our lives." 

There are around 800,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK and it is one of the top three causes of disability in later life. Dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year and will affect one in three people who live to over the age of 65. 

The correspondence is available to view on The Lancet website.