Experts say that based on newer, convincing evidence on the risk factors of dementia, excessive alcohol consumption, head injury, and air pollution are three new reasons many Nigerians may grow old to develop dementia, a group of thinking and social symptoms that is characterised by at least memory loss and judgment.
Previously identified risk factors include less education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, and limited social contact.
In the new study, the team comprising 28 experts on dementia from institutions all around the world, said modifying these 12 risk factors might prevent or delay up to 40 per cent of dementia cases. The 2020 report by the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care appeared in the July edition of The Lancet.
According to them, the contributions of these risk factors to the risk of dementia begin early and continue throughout life and mitigating them will require trying to prevent hearing loss, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, head injuries, and depression, as well as cutting back on smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and taking steps to reduce ambient air pollution.
They declared that policy should address people living inactive lifestyles, ensuring tobacco smoking cessation, children receiving both primary and secondary education, maintaining normal blood pressure, a reduction in alcohol intake as well as prevention of head injuries, especially in high risk occupations to help reduce dementia risk.
They urged that at the policymaking level, people should be made to lead active lifestyles, encouraged to stop smoking tobacco, children to receive both primary and secondary education, maintain normal blood pressure, reduction in alcohol intake as well as measures put in place to prevent head injuries, especially in high-risk occupations.
Professor Adesola Ogunniyi, the report’s co-author at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, stated most of the cases of dementia are likely to occur in low and medium-income countries due to population ageing and higher frequency of these potentially modifiable risk factors for the problem in the brain.
According to Professor Ogunniyi, about five per cent of older persons are likely to end up with dementia in Nigeria although its avoidance in these individuals are possible.
He added, “If we don’t take steps to prevent individuals from catching this disease, then we will be faced with a big problem that will affect our older population. In our studies, about five per cent of older persons are likely to end up with dementia in Nigeria.
“That is a huge chunk that we can prevent from acquiring this disease by making sure that those who go on commercial motorcycles, popularly called okada, wear crash elements. We can reduce air pollution, especially in the Niger-Delta region and all industrial areas. If along with that, we legislate on the reduction of harmful consumption of alcohol, then we are likely to reduce the chances that individuals will lose their brains to a disease like this, dementia.”
Although limited memory loss may be a feature of ageing, Professor Ogunniyi said that a memory loss that is interfering with daily functioning is not part of ageing but a manifestation of a disease.
He added, “some reduction in cognitive ability does occur with ageing, but it does not get to a stage where the ability to function well is compromised, which is what dementia is all about- inability to remember things, cope with daily needs like using your medications, paying bills, managing money, taking decisions on families and keeping personal hygiene. That is not part of normal ageing and that is a disease.”
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