University of Auckland: Aotearoa’s surging rates of dementia can be limited

The number of people in New Zealand with dementia is forecast to increase from 70,000 today to 170,000 by 2050.

However, many cases can be avoided by reducing contributing factors such as hearing loss, smoking, depression, obesity, social isolation and physical inactivity, according to a new study published in The Lancet – Regional Health Western Pacific.

Almost half (47.7%) of New Zealand’s dementia cases are potentially preventable, with even higher prevention potential for Maori (51.4%) and Pacific peoples (50.8%), according to Dr Etuini Ma’u, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

But the relative contribution of risk factors is different across ethnic groups.

Social isolation and hearing loss is big for Europeans, hearing loss and lower education levels for Māori and Pacific peoples, and physical inactivity for those of Asian ethnicity.

“In the absence of a cure for dementia, prevention needs to become a public health priority to stem the surge. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and strategies to reduce dementia need to be tailored toward the most relevant risk factors within each ethnic group,” says Dr Ma’u.

A 2020 Lancet Commission identified 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia: less education, hypertension, obesity, alcohol, traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, smoking, depression, physical inactivity, social isolation, diabetes, and air pollution.

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