PREVENTION OF DEMENTIA I
‘HOW CAN I STOP myself getting dementia?’ is a question commonly posed to dementia specialists. Until recently, it has not been possible to provide any advice based on reputable research. The situation is rapidly changing, however, and in this and the next chapter I describe the known risk factors for dementia and strategies that may possibly counteract them. One of the features of recent research has been the convergence of identified risk factors for the two most common types of dementia, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Thus I discuss prevention strategies for dementia as a whole and indicate where particular strategies may be important for specific types of dementia.
It is important to appreciate that intentional efforts to prevent any disease imply that there is some reasonable understanding of what causes it. The disease process by which the causal factors turn a normal state into a pathological (diseased) state must also be understood. Recognition of ‘risk factors’ that may facilitate or are associated with the disease process, and ‘protective factors’ that may suppress the process or are associated with normality, is also crucial. Risk and protective factors may include genetic, medical, biological, environmental, dietary, social and cultural aspects. In the field of dementia, it has only been over the last decade that knowledge has grown sufficiently in these domains for prevention strategies to be mounted.
Historically, of course, many conditions have been prevented unintentionally or by unknown methods. An example is suicide in