Up to 55 million projected dementia cases by 2050 could be delayed or avoided. Despite advances in drug development, the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association(VIAA) and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) warns that risk reduction remains the only proven prevention tool VIAA and ADI are calling on governments to urgently fund more research on risk-reduction, introduce strategies, education, and support services, to delay or prevent up to 55 million of the global projected 139 million cases of dementia by 2050.

Most governments have already signed up to prioritise dementia risk reduction with the World Health Organization, however, evidence suggests that most have forgotten or ignored this commitment so far.

September 5, 2023, Road Town, Tortola, Virgin Islands – The Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association, through the National Health Insurance database, was able to ascertain that 188 people were diagnosed to be living with dementia in the Virgin Islands. International data states that in addition to those that have been diagnosed another 75 percent are usually undiagnosed. Therefore, a realistic estimate number of persons in the Territory with a dementia is well over three hundred.

The VIAA and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) says that up to 55 million, or 40 percent, of projected dementia cases could be delayed or potentially even avoided by addressing just 12 risk factors.

The VIAA, the national Alzheimer association of Virgin Islands and a member of ADI, the federation of national Alzheimer and dementia associations are calling on governments around the world to urgently fund dementia risk-reduction research, education and support services and for governments to make risk reduction a core element of National Dementia Plans.

The Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Vincent Wheatley in a statement indicated that it was never too early or too late for individuals to be proactive and take action to reduced their likelihood of developing dementia. “Those who have been diagnosed with dementia should continue to practice risk reduction activities which could help them live better quality and longer lives,” he stated.

He added that practicing risk reduction post-diagnosis can continue to have benefit for people living with dementia, improving well-being and ensuring connections with others, maintaining physically activities, and monitoring of all Non Communicable Diseases. “Risk reduction for dementia, including awareness around its importance, should be practiced all different stages of a person’s life,” he added.

The VIAA say tackling dementia risk factors for individuals, both before and after a diagnosis, could reduce or slow down the oncoming 139 million projected dementia cases by 2050 in a way that is accessible and affordable for people across the globe.

There are many proven risk factors for dementia, many of which individuals have a degree of personal control over. These include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, infrequent social contact, head injuries, and conditions including diabetes, hearing loss, depression, obesity, and hypertension.

The remaining risk factors include air pollution and restricted access to early education, which governments are responsible for addressing.

Furthermore, governments are responsible for providing other services that can help improve the lives of those living with dementia, such as affordable access to health and long-term care, and mental health services.

Moreover, many governments have already agreed to prioritise dementia risk reduction and support for those living with dementia and their carers through their commitment to the WHO Global Action Plan on the public health response to dementia. Yet, evidence suggests that many have forgotten or ignored this commitment.

“We are calling on governments worldwide to invest in both research and support services, to reduce dementia risk, and to invest in risk reduction awareness campaigns; clear, persuasive campaigns that cut through the noise and confusion of much of the healthcare messaging”, says Barbarino, CEO of Alzheimer’s Disease International.

“This is a critical step, in the absence of treatment or a cure, to prevent as many cases as possible. We must ensure populations are aware of dementia risk-reduction strategies, at all ages, and have access to necessary information, advice, and support services.”

Advances in dementia drug development – why we can’t wait. This year there have been many advances in potential dementia drug therapies that have brought hope to many people living with dementia and their careers. However, these treatments may not be suitable or available for every person living with dementia.

“As there currently no cure for dementia we must look to and take measures to reduce our risk for dementia. This is why the theme of World Alzheimer’s Month is Never too early or never too late to reduce our risk for dementia,” says the Founding Director, VIAA Ms. Edna Williams.

Only 40 governments worldwide have so far developed national dementia plans, with even fewer of these including risk reduction strategies. As a result, governments are missing out on a vital tool to delay or prevent future cases.

Bearing the burden alone – The need for urgent government investment Although individuals can implement lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of developing dementia, or slow the progress of dementia, governments have a clear role to play in reducing societal risk.

Ms. Williams says that the urgency for government involvement in response to rising dementia cases is clear.

The funding of such initiatives may even cross over with other governmental goals such as reducing smoking and obesity rates, addressing mental health issues such as depression, or improving access to hearing aids, the use of which has been shown to slow cognitive decline in those experiencing hearing loss.

“So often, those who have been diagnosed with dementia tell us they were unaware that there are modifiable risk factors for dementia and wish they knew how to reduce the risk much earlier in life. Often, it isn’t until after diagnosis that they realise how practical dementia prevention can be both for preventing or delaying the onset, but also to potentially slow the progression of the condition,” says Barbarino.

The VIAA invites the public to take part in the month’s activities including the Association’s Dementia Risk Reduction Health Fair at the Noel Lloyd Positive Action Movement Park on Saturday, 23rd September from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the Power of Music on the Brain Concert on Virgin Gorda on Saturday, 30th September from2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. “It’s never too early, and it’s never too late to reduce dementia risk.”