Dementia: A Growing Worldwide Health Problem

03 June, 2019

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Aging is normal. But dementia is not a normal part of aging.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines dementia as an illness marked by a decline in a person's ability to think, reason and understand "beyond what might be expected from normal aging."

It results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer disease or stroke. About 50 million people around the world have dementia.

WHO experts warn that dementia is a "rapidly growing public health problem." People with dementia are often not able to care for themselves. Their need for care, the WHO adds, creates great economic problems for families and societies. Experts estimate that by the year 2030 caring for people with dementia will cost about $2 trillion (US$) every year.

That is what health experts from the World Health Organization said in a recent statement to the press. They add that there are nearly 10 million new cases every year and that number is set to triple by the year 2050.

Elderly and middle-age people exercise with wooden weights during a health event to celebrate Japan's
Elderly and middle-age people exercise with wooden weights during a health event to celebrate Japan's "Respect for the Aged Day" at a temple in Tokyo, 2015.

How to reduce the risk of getting dementia

As a part of their awareness campaign, the WHO released new guidelines for reducing the risk of getting dementia.

WHO experts say that scientific evidence confirms that what is good for our hearts is also good for our brains. Having an active and healthy lifestyle is the best way to avoid getting dementia as we age.

The WHO guidelines include the following:

  • exercise regularly
  • do not smoke
  • do not drink harmful amounts of alcohol
  • keep a healthy weight
  • eat a healthy diet
  • keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar at healthy levels

The guidelines are common sense advice given by many other health organizations, such as the U.S. National Institute on Aging. But they are important reminders. They can help healthcare providers advise their patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia.

The new guidelines can also help governments and policy-makers design social programs to help people lead healthy lifestyles. WHO experts add that possibly following a Mediterranean-style diet may help prevent dementia. But they warn against talking vitamin B or E pills, fish oil or other so-called "brain health" pills. They say there is "strong research showing they don't work."

The WHO advises countries to create support plans to help caregivers.

Dr. Dévora Kestel is Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization. In a statement to the press, she said that people who care for people with dementia are very often family members. These family members "need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones."

And that's the Health and Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.


Words in This Story

declinen. the process of becoming worse in condition or quality

variety n. the quality or state of having or including many different things

rapidly n. happening in a short amount of time: happening quickly

awareness n. the state or condition of knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists

diet n. the food that a person or animal usually eats

society n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values

regularly adv. at the same time every day, week, month, etc. : on a regular basis

reminder n. something that calls a memory or thought to the mind

cognitive adj. technical : of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)

pill n. a small, rounded object that you swallow and that contains medicine, vitamins, etc.

adjustmentn. a small change that improves something or makes it work better