Rethinking dementia as preventable, not inevitable

blue line drawing of human brain

January 4, 2024—There are many ways to prevent dementia—starting with convincing the public it can be done, says Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Albert Hofman.

Hofman, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology, was featured in a January 2 article in the South China Morning Post about the connections between dementia and cardiovascular disease and how individuals can reduce their risk of both. According to Hofman, between 30% and 40% of dementia cases are related to factors that also increase the risk of heart disease. His research shows that these cases can be avoided through smoking cessation, healthy diet and exercise, and blood pressure and cholesterol management.

Other research by Hofman shows that over the past 25 years, dementia rates have declined 13% per decade. He largely attributes this improvement to public health investments in cardiovascular health—anti-smoking campaigns and other promotions of heart-healthy behaviors that also happen to be brain-healthy.

We’ve seen “enormous success in the last part of the last century and the early part of this one in preventing heart attack and stroke,” Hofman said. Similar investments in preventing dementia could result in even greater declines in that disease as well, he noted.

Although work is ongoing to develop drugs to fight dementia, Hofman stressed that people should consider solutions other than treatment.

“Prevention is [the solution],” Hofman said. “I am hopeful, but we need to defeat the public’s fatalistic attitude. Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging.”

Read the article in The South China Morning Post: How protecting your heart health may prevent dementia; lifestyle factors key to avoiding cardiovascular disease, study says

Photo: iStock/filo