A new paper supported by 50 of the Australia's leading health organisations calls for a national dementia prevention campaign.
The Improving Brain and Body Health paper urges governments at all levels to educate and support the public about lifestyle changes that may reduce the risk of dementia. It also recommends that GPs should assess all Australians for dementia lifestyle risk factors in midlife, and calls for greater investment into dementia research.
Paper author Adjunct Associate Professor Maria Duggan from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute said dementia costs would rise to $18.7 billion a year by 2025 with more than half a million people expected to be living with the disease.
People are unaware that they can change the course of their dementia risk by considering lifestyle choices.
"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,” Adjunct Assoc Professor Duggan said.
Through maintaining a healthy body weight, healthy heart, healthy eating, exercise, cutting alcohol intake, not smoking and keeping an active brain, people can decrease the risk factors that are linked to dementia and potentially slow the decline for those who have the condition.
Dementia is not a natural part of the aging 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,” Adjunct Assoc Professor Duggan.
“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 that 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.”
Adjunct Assoc Professor Duggan said government and health services needed a greater focus on women as they were twice as likely as men to die from dementia.
“Dementia is the biggest killer of women in this country. We should be aiming for women to be focused on prevention and early detection of dementia.”
There are currently 447,000 people with dementia in Australia.
Patricia McQueen, aged 63, saw her mother’s brain health deteriorate in the last years of her life.
“My mother had suspected dementia and lived until 89. I want to avoid the same fate.
“I am an arty person, not a sporty person and I used to avoid sport. But about 10 years ago I made a conscious choice to do everything I can to live a long, healthy life because I want to be in full health well into my 80s or even 90s,” Ms McQueen said. “I now regularly go to the gym, swim and do exercise classes.”
The Australian Health Policy Collaboration, led by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, brings together more than 50 leading Australian health organisations.