As countries mark World Alzheimer’s Day on Monday, the South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) has warned that the figure of more than 50 million people globally living with dementia, could treble in the next 30 years.
But Sasop’s Dr Sihle Nhlabathi – a consultant psychiatrist at Stikland Hospital neat Tygerberg – up to 40% of cases could be prevented or delayed through risk reduction measures: physical exercise, healthy eating, staying mentally fit and socially active.
Nhlabathi listed smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, diabetes, hypertension, depression and air pollution as being among 12 risk factors for dementia, recently identified by the medical journal The Lancet’s Commission on Dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease, said Nhlabathi, was one of the most common forms of dementia – a set of progressive brain syndromes, which affected memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion.
She said risk factors were interlinked, making it important to address healthy lifestyle choices as a whole and from an early age.
Although dementia mainly affected people over the age of 65 and the leading cause of disability among the elderly, about one in 1,000 people could be affected from as early as in their 40s.
“Young-onset dementia” was due to a global increase in sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diet choices.
“Another disease that is very important in our South African context is the high prevalence of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Persons living with HIV now live longer due to advances in ARV antiretroviral access.
“However, HIV targets the central nervous system very early in illness and this results in HIV-associated dementia in the long term,” Nhlabathi said.