With more evidence pointing to a number of preventable risk factors for dementia, Alzheimer’s Research UK say there needs to be more focus on research in this area, particularly in the way they’re funded and carried out
A lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and low education have all been linked to an increased risk of dementia, with some studies suggesting that up to 30% of Alzheimer’s cases could be preventable.
But there’s still a long way to go and a ‘lack of robust evidence’ to really understand the link between preventable illnesses or lifestyle factors and dementia risk, say Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK).
Funding for what is known as ‘prevention studies’, that is, studies that look into how preventable factors such as diet and lifestyle can impact on health and dementia risk, is low compared to other areas of dementia research. In fact, it accounts for an estimated 5% of UK dementia studies and just 2% of global research studies.
This is according to a report published in the Journal of Public Health by ARUK. The charity wanted to identify and understand the barriers blocking this type of research and find ways to boost prevention studies.
They led a discussion workshop with 58 experts including prevention researchers, clinicians, research funders and policymakers, and discovered specific barriers. These included the length of time needed to investigate potential preventions for diseases such as Alzheimer’s (it can take many years for changes in the brain to show symptoms), and the complexities of understanding risk factors and teasing apart cause and effect.
They also felt inconsistent methods and study designs hindered the ability to pool or compare results, and a lack of expert researchers working in this area could be holding things back.
However, they also identified potential solutions to overcome these issues, including agreeing international standards for study design and applying research and data from more established areas of risk reduction research such as cardiovascular disease.
Dr Matthew Norton, Director of Policy and Strategy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, who co-authored the report, said:
‘There is a compelling need for more high quality research into dementia risk reduction. While research suggests that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce dementia risk across the population, we still need better evidence to develop more targeted prevention strategies and underpin public policy.
‘Alzheimer’s Research UK currently supports some innovative risk reduction studies, but we are keen to expand our own work in this area and we hope other funders will be encouraged to do the same. Prevention research is notoriously complex, and these results suggest that we need to take a new approach to the way these studies are funded and carried out. If we are to have an impact on future generations’ dementia risk, it will be essential for us to address some of these challenges to reinvigorate dementia prevention research.’