Lon Schneider, M.D.

Older adults who stop smoking, treat their depression or diabetes if they have either, and increase their physical activity and social contact can reduce their likelihood of developing dementia, according to research presented Thursday in London at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2017.

Combined with steps undertaken by others in early, mid- and late life, one-third of all dementia cases could be prevented, according to the study, which also was published in The Lancet journal. The steps taken in late life are responsible for a 15% reduction.

The step to take in early life is increasing education, and steps in midlife include addressing hearing loss, hypertension and obesity.

The first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care brought together 24 experts to review existing research and produce evidence-based recommendations for treating and preventing dementia.

“The potential magnitude of the effect on dementia of reducing these risk factors is larger than we could ever imagine the effect that current, experimental medications could have,” commission member and AAIC presenter Lon Schneider, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “Mitigating risk factors provides us a powerful way to reduce the global burden of dementia.”

The expert panel also looked at the effect of alternatives to antipsychotic medications for people with dementia and found that social contact and activities were better than the drugs for treating dementia-related agitation and aggression. Nonpharmacologic interventions such as group cognitive stimulation therapy and exercise offered some benefit in cognition, too.

Read the full Lancet Dementia 2017 Commission: The Lancet: Dementia prevention, intervention, and care