Foreword by Professor Kevin Fenton, National director, Health and Wellbeing
In recent weeks, Public Health England has focused on how it can reduce the number of people who develop dementia.
Dementia will be one of our biggest health challenges in the coming years. Today, 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. By 2025 it could reach 1m. The UK spends an estimated £26bn a year caring for people with dementia and that figure will inevitably rise.
The facts, figures, and uncertainty obscure what we know, which is that the effects of dementia on individuals and families are profound. The progressive, irreversible decline in our ability to think and remember is a prospect many of us dread.
In the past, dementia was seen as an inevitable part of ageing. However, we now know that up to one-third of dementia cases could be prevented if people modified unhealthy behaviour. Some risk factors for dementia mirror those for cardiovascular disease. Put simply, what is good for the heart is good for the brain. So, dementia would decline if more people stopped smoking, avoided excess alcohol, improved their diet and took regular exercise.
Clinical commissioners and local authorities have an important role to play in strategies to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. One way is to increase the NHS Health Check among adults aged 40 to 74. This programme offers a great opportunity to inform adults about the steps they can take to lower dementia risk. By focusing on major risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol, the NHS Health Check can identify issues that heighten people’s chances of developing dementia and help them respond accordingly.
The programme can also be used to target socioeconomic and ethnic groups at most risk from dementia.
Presently, the NHS Health Check for the 65 to 74 age group includes a component to raise awareness about dementia and signpost local services. As part of a pilot project, people aged 40 to 64 will be given information about dementia risk reduction during their NHS Health Check. PHE, the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK are also working to improve dementia training for health professionals who undertake an NHS Health Check.
At PHE we have developed a number of online resources for local and national use. Our dementia profile tool provides information on local risk factors for dementia. The dementia edition of Health Matters provides evidence, infographics and advice on midlife approaches to reduce dementia risks.
I hope these resources prove useful in spreading the message about dementia risk and how people can help to protect themselves against the condition.