Queen Mary experts call for coordinated public education and research to avert a brain disease crisis
Chair of the author group, Professor Gavin Giovannoni and co-chair Dr Alastair Noyce, find there’s a ‘window of opportunity’ in midlife where individuals can reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative disease.
The evidence-based report, Time matters: a call to prioritize brain health, summarises published evidence and the consensus findings of an international multidisciplinary expert group, including clinicians, researchers and representatives from patient advocacy and professional groups. It is published by the Oxford Health Policy Forum.
Promote a brain-healthy lifestyle
The report findings have lead experts to call for a public health campaign aimed at promoting a ‘brain-healthy lifestyle’ to reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The campaign should support existing health promotion work by emphasising that ‘what is good for the heart is generally good for the brain’, they urge.
Professor Giovannoni said: “People need to understand the risk factors that can affect their brain health and what can be done to maintain it and to help prevent neurodegenerative diseases.”
Dr Alastair Noyce said: “Deterioration in the structure or function of nerve cells (neurodegeneration) begins many years before any symptoms become obvious. This means that diagnosis often occurs at a relatively late stage in the disease course, when substantial damage to nerve cells has already taken place.
“We conclude that there is a ‘10–20-year window of opportunity’ in midlife during which people can reduce the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease or delay its progress. We cannot change our genetic make-up, but we can help reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases ourselves by taking exercise, keeping socially active, eating healthily, reducing alcohol intake, stopping smoking and keeping our brains active.”
Neurodegenerative diseases becoming more common
As people live longer neurodegenerative diseases are becoming more common, but they are not an inevitable consequence of normal ageing. Worldwide, Alzheimer’s disease affects 50 million people and Parkinson’s disease affects more than 6.1 million people; these numbers are rising.
Professor Giovannoni said: “Planning for the healthcare structures of the future has to start now if we’re to avert a crisis. Neurodegenerative diseases pose an enormous socioeconomic and individual burden, and this will continue to grow as the population ages.”
Accessible holistic care
The report suggests a series of recommendations to prepare for the forecasted growth of neurodegenerative diseases, and ways to help prevent their onset. These recommendations include: improving public understanding of how to protect brain health through diet and exercise, providing access to treatments in a timely manner, and providing accessible holistic care, including prevention information, treatment options and support.
A full copy of the report is available at www.oxfordhealthpolicyforum.org
For media information, contact:Chris Mahony
Faculty Communications Manager (Medicine and Dentistry)