Earlier this week Sally Warren blogged about how we can support personal and community-level action to help people live well with dementia. I want to consider how we can reduce the risk of developing dementia in the first place.
I am excited by the opportunity we have to make a difference to people’s lives and I am determined that we will seize the moment and really capture the emerging evidence that dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing and in some cases can be prevented or its progression delayed. My role as lead for the prevention of dementia is to make this a reality for all of us.
We are very lucky. Dementia is in the same place that HIV once was, when international summits began to agree that this condition would be managed and a cure sought. We now have a far better understanding of this condition and this should be our ambition for dementia.
The opportunity is there for us for the taking. A few weeks ago I chaired a consensus conference for national and international experts around the potential for promoting brain health, hosted by PHE and the UK Health Forum. The outcome is there is consensus that this is a condition where vascular and neurological causes coexist, and thus even though we cannot as yet cure the neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, we can certainly make a significant difference to the vascular components. Outcomes from the conference will be available soon.
There is more good news on the horizon. The possibility of assessing vascular risk for people at a much younger age and projecting their vascular risks further in the future is just round the corner. Thus we are practically at the point where we can really start to tie in the prevention of dementia in our middle ages not once we are older.
Our aspiration at PHE is that future primary prevention policies are likely to be transformed and will be framed within a broader approach to health and wellbeing that explicitly supports the aim of good brain health during life. Such an approach, linking policies and interventions to tackle known risk factors with those to promote factors which are protective against dementia is the way of the future.
I have to disclose I have a vested interest to tackle dementia. I will do all I can to stave off the onset of symptoms which will stop me doing what I am doing now. I will be sixty years old in a few weeks and I also want to ensure I am treated as a person not a container for disease. The approach Sally Warren and I are adopting puts control in the hands of people and encourages people to help themselves. Come with us on this journey. We promise you it will be an exciting ride.