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40% of dementia preventable – highlighting need to resource prevention

Particular focus needed on preventing dementia among people with intellectual disabilities

Up to 40% of dementias are preventable highlighting the need to resource early intervention, awareness and new treatments. A special Oireachtas briefing led by The Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) has been told.

Speaking at the event hosted by The All Party Oireachtas Group on Dementia in advance of Brain Awareness Week (March 14-20), The ASI, clinicians, academics, and the Global Brain Health Institute showcased opportunities to increase prevention and significant developments in medical treatments.

The briefing highlighted the need for sufficient resources to fund these opportunities. There are 64,000 people living with dementia in the country. The number is to more than double in 25 years.

The ASI Interim CEO Siobhan O’Connor said:

“This briefing to our elected representatives is one of hope. We can all look after our brain health, and we should talk to our doctor as early as possible if any changes in memory become apparent. Many steps can be taken which will make a real difference.

“If we address early risk factors such as hearing loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and depression then – according to the Lancet Commission – 40% of dementias are preventable. There are interventions which can reverse cognitive decline through education, exercise, stimulation, and social engagement. And further to this, there are a suite of significant new medical treatments becoming available which slow down early onset.”

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions which cause changes in addition to damage to the brain. It is a progressive condition for which there currently is no cure. Dementia is not just a medical issue, but also a social issue that requires a community response.

Pic 2 Dementia briefing
June O’Reilly, Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability. Siobhan O’Connor, ASI Interim CEO, Mei Lin and Professor Mary McCarron. TCD Professor of Intellectual disability and Ageing, pictured before the briefing of the All Party Oireachtas Group on Dementia led by The Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI). Mei Lin was in Leinster House to highlight how dementia disproportionately affects people with down syndrome. Oireachtas members were told that up to 40% of dementias are preventable, therefore highlighting the need to resource early intervention, awareness and new treatments.
Picture: Finbarr O’Rourke

Addressing Oireachtas members, Faculty Member of the Global Brain Health Institute and Consultant in Physician Geriatric and Stroke Medicine at Tallaght Hospital

Professor Sean Kennelly said: “Dementia is the most significant health condition globally. We have no definitive treatments, but we are now at the cusp of a new era of better interventions. They will prevent, diagnose, and treat Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It’s imperative that we educate people. They need to understand what a ‘brain-healthy’ lifestyle is, and to therefore take action to reduce the risks.”

Trinity College Dublin Professor of Intellectual Disability and Ageing Mary McCarron highlighted the particular needs of people with an intellectual disability, for whom the risk of developing dementia is five times higher.

“Dementia symptoms begin at earlier ages for people with an intellectual disability. This means the promotion of brain health and the diagnosis of the disease must begin at earlier ages. Virtually everyone with Down syndrome has the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease by age 40. There is an 88% risk of developing the clinical symptoms by age 65. Therefore, actions to promote brain health in people with intellectual disabilities are needed now and at all ages. 

The National Intellectual Disability Memory Service

“The National Intellectual Disability Memory Service has opened up new avenues for people with an intellectual disability to timely assessment, diagnosis and post-diagnostic support. We welcomed the announcement in Budget 2022, by the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler, of a further investment of €7.3m in services such as memory assessment, memory technology resource rooms and the national intellectual disability memory service.”

Siobhan O’Connor concluded by welcoming funding as part of the HSE’s National Service Plan 2022 to facilitate the recruitment of a Project Manager in Brain Health, due to commence with the National Dementia Office (NDO) in July this year.

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