The new guidelines from NICE focus on how changes in lifestyle can reduce the risk of dementia.
What do the new guidelines mean to health professionals?
The new guidelines include recommendations on promoting a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of or delay the onset of disability, dementia and frailty by helping people to:
- stop smoking
- be more active
- reduce their alcohol consumption
- improve their diet and,
- lose weight and maintain a healthy weight if necessary
While many either know or suspect that these areas are important for their long-term health, they might not be aware of the link between lifestyle changes and the development of dementia. It is therefore important that health professionals communicate this.
How do we communicate the advice?
The guidelines state that it is important that health professionals in their interactions with patients make it clear that by acting on the recommendations listed above they can reduce their likelihood of developing dementia and other health problems in later life.
So what should we focus on when we communicate?
The guidelines suggest it is important to stress that sustained ill health in old age is not inevitable. The earlier we adopt a healthy lifestyle the greater the likelihood of a reduced risk of dementia, disability and frailty, however even changes made in mid-life can lead to health gains.
When communicating the above there is a risk of stigmatising those living with dementia and those who develop dementia, suggesting they are at fault. It is therefore important to be aware, and let people know that some factors, such as genetic susceptibility, are outside of their control, though by reducing the risks they can potentially increase the years spent in good health.
When should we bring up the subject?
Here the guidelines specifically suggest that health professionals take advantage of times in people's lives when substantial change occurs, such as retirement, when children leave home, when starting to care for older relatives or grandchildren, or during the menopause. These are times when people may consider adopting new healthy behaviours, or may be at risk of adopting unhealthy ones.
In addition, the guidelines suggest that all health professionals should use routine appointments and contacts to give people advice on how to reduce risk factors that can lead to dementia.