Re-framing the dementia tsunami narrative

Dementia is often portrayed in public discourse as a global tsunami, giving the impression that dementia is an unstoppable and unpreventable illness engulfing society.  Correlated with the above portrayal is societal attitudes towards dementia.  A widely publicized poll suggests that people are more fearful of developing dementia than cancer.   Recent studies however indicate that while certain risk factors are inherent, a large proportion (35%) of dementia risk factors are modifiable across the life course and which if addressed, could reduce the risk of dementia.

  • Modifiable risk factors in early life (8%):
    • Education: Increased time spent in education, at least until secondary school completion.
  • Modifiable risk factors in midlife (12%):
    • Hearing loss (9%)
    • Hypertension (2%)
    • Obesity (1%)
  • Modifiable risk factors in later life (15%):
    • Smoking (5%)
    • Depression (4%)
    • Physical inactivity (3%)
    • Social isolation (2%)
    • Diabetes (1%)

While dementia is often thought of as an individual’s disease, dementia has to also be considered in relation to the wellbeing of family carers, who provide the backbone of support to people living with dementia.  At the national level, formulation of policies for good dementia care needs to be tailored to the needs of both the individual with dementia and their families within their cultural contexts.  Some current work in this area include appropriately designed living facilities for people with dementia and incorporating cultural knowledge around elder care.

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Farzana Gounder
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