x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE must act now to limit rise in Alzheimer’s, experts warn

Alzheimer’s could increase more than four-fold in the next 50 years because of widespread diabetes, a rapidly aging population and poor lifestyle choices.

ABU DHABI // Alzheimer’s could increase more than four-fold in the next 50 years because of widespread diabetes, a rapidly aging population and poor lifestyle choices.

It is already the most common form of dementia in the elderly and the risk is increased by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and especially Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes doubles the likelihood of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Dr Jaakko Tuomilehto, professor of public health at the University of Helsinki, said at a discussion on the subject on Sunday.

With diabetes set to increase by up to 80 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa by 2030, the knock-on effect for Alzheimer’s could be disastrous, the doctor said.

Poor lifestyle choices such as obesity, high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle – all often associated with diabetes – are also linked to Alzheimer’s, said Dr Tuomilehto. He advised healthier habits as a way to prevent it.

“The risk factors are the same for both diabetes and dementia,” he said. “It is not enough to just change one thing. You have to overhaul your lifestyle.”

As the population ages, so does the risk of Alzheimer’s, said Dr Miia Kivipelto, a professor of clinical geriatric epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Although only 1 per cent of the population is aged 65 or over, this is set to increase to 6 per cent by 2030 and 30 per cent by 2050, Dr Kivipelto told an audience of 200 at the Muntada discussion at Manaraat Al Saadiyat.

“That is why it is never too early to start thinking about Alzheimer’s,” she said.

As the elderly population increases worldwide, Dr Kivipelto predicts the risk of Alzheimer’s will increase by four times over the next 50 years – with the risk in the UAE even higher because so many have a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle.

Environmental factors such as poor diet and a lack of physical activity all increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s because of obesity and high blood pressure, said Dr Kivipelto.

People need to start improving their lifestyle now to defend themselves against cognitive decline, she said.

Alzheimer’s affects about 35.6 million people worldwide. In the early stages, the most common symptom is short-term memory loss. As the disease advances, symptoms can include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language and long-term memory loss.

“We know that the population of Abu Dhabi is aging and Alzheimer’s disease is getting much more common,” said Dr Kivipelto. She warned that a lack of official studies in the UAE coupled with a lack of awareness could lead to postponed diagnosis.

Because of the relatively young population, there is a low awareness of the disease, she said.

From the age of 50, people need to start thinking about how to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, she said. Changing lifestyle habits at this age could reduce or prevent the risk of dementias.

The best defence, she said, was stimulating activity.

“Physical activity, mental activity and social activity can prevent against dementias and lead to a healthy brain and heart,” said Dr Kivipelto, 39, a recipient of the Academy of Finland Award for Social Impact and the Junior Chamber International Award as Outstanding Young Person, in Finland and internationally.

Medication can slow the progress of the disease but none that can halt it entirely, she said, and early intervention was crucial,

Muntada events were launched in April 2011 by the Sheikha Salama bin Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation to encourage debate on thought-provoking topics. Nine subjects have been discussed so far at the talks.

For information, email muntada@shf.ae.

jbell@thenational.ae