Call For New Policy Focus On Brain Health To Reduce The Risk Of Dementia

Blackfriars Consensus Statement calls for new national focus to reduce risk of developing dementia.

Action to tackle smoking, drinking, sedentary behaviour and poor diet could reduce the risk of dementia in later life alongside other conditions such as heart disease, stroke and many cancers, according to the UK Health Forum and Public Health England in a joint consensus statement published today (20 May 2014).

Fifty-nine organisations and experts from across the dementia and public health community, including practitioners and researchers, have signed the consensus statement which is accompanied by a correspondence in the Lancet. The agreement, known as the Blackfriars Consensus Statement, highlights the need for a new national focus on dementia risk reduction. It was drawn up following a meeting held earlier this year by the UK Health Forum and Public Health England (PHE) in Blackfriars, London.

The Blackfriars Consensus Statement says that the scientific evidence on dementia risk reduction is evolving rapidly and is now sufficient to justify action to incorporate dementia risk reduction into health policies and to raise wider awareness about which factors can reduce the risk of developing dementia. The Statement is launched during Dementia Awareness Week (19 to 24 May 2014) and is intended to help raise awareness among policy makers and the wider health and care workforce as well as the public that dementia is amenable to risk reduction in similar ways to other non-communicable diseases.

Paul Lincoln, chief executive officer of the UK Health Forum said:

Protecting and promoting brain health has been a relatively neglected concept until now. The consensus today is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. In other words, effective public health policies to tackle the major chronic disease risk factors of smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol and poor diet across the population will help reduce the risk of dementia in later life.

It strengthens the case for action to create the physical and economic environments which will support people to lead healthier lives; for example, transport plans and investment that promote more walking and cycling as part of everyday life. Unless we tackle the root causes of the problem we will not achieve the scale or pace of improvement needed to curb the huge social and economic costs of dementia and other non-communicable diseases.

Dr Charles Alessi, senior advisor and dementia prevention lead at PHE, said:

The Blackfriars Consensus Statement is an important step in changing the way we think about dementia. We need to start to “think brain, think heart” as brain health is inexorably linked to heart health and we can add healthy years to our lives by reducing risks earlier in our lives.

Public health programmes have contributed to a big decline in deaths from heart disease and stroke over the past 50 years – we now need to achieve the same on dementia, which is one of the biggest challenges facing our society.”

There are around 800,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK and it is one of the top 3 causes of disability in later life. Dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year and will affect 1 in 3 people who live to over the age of 65.