Give up all drink or risk dementia
GPs to tell middle-aged they must change their lifestyle to lower Alzheimer’s threat
MIDDLE-AGED people should be told that there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption” and should stop drinking altogether if they want to reduce the risk of dementia, health watchdogs will warn today.
Guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) on how to protect against dementia suggests that even drinking within the Government’s safe limits can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The advice says drinking any alcohol can increase the risk of dementia, disability and frailty, telling GPs that people should be encouraged “to reduce the amount they drink as much as possible”. It suggests Britain’s “social norms” when it comes to alcohol “need to be challenged”.
The warning – by the official watchdog that informs the NHS on which drugs and treatments to offer – comes as the Government formally reviews “safe” levels of alcohol consumption. Last year, Nice suggested in draft guidance that the rules should be revised, but it will today issue formal guidance that will put ministers under pressure to scrap current recommendations.
The new advice says the public should be told that there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption” and calls on GPs to tackle the middle-aged about lifestyle behaviours linked to dementia.
Research has found that one third of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease can be linked to lifestyle factors such as exercise, obesity, smoking and alcohol. The guidance is aimed at adults aged between 40 and 65, amid concerns that many of the lifestyles of those in midlife now are worse than those of previous generations, and will contribute to a rising tide of dementia.
The advice says that early action to improve lifestyles has the greatest impact, but that it is never too late to reduce the risk of the condition.
The current government advice suggests women can drink two to three units of alcohol a day (one 175ml glass of wine) and men three units without compromising their health. “Drinking alcohol daily at home has become normal for some people, and this poses a threat to health,” the guidance says.
It also says people should not see middle age or retirement as a time to slow down their pace of life.
“Reducing activity – ‘slowing down’ and having ‘earned a rest’ – are often seen as an expected part of growing older,” it says, but suggests that instead, health would be better protected by a more active lifestyle in mid-life.
The recommendations for the NHS and local councils also call for sweeping changes in the way public spaces are governed, in an effort to reduce rates of smoking. It calls for smoke-free policies to be expanded to cover public parks and open-air markets.
John Britton, professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham and Nice guideline development group chairman, said: “It is well known that smoking, too much alcohol, inactivity and being overweight is bad for our health, but many people don’t realise
that these things can also increase the likelihood of developing dementia and other causes of poor quality of life in older age.
“The evidence we looked at suggested that people can prevent these outcomes by making simple changes in life – stopping smoking, cutting alcohol, being more active and losing weight. Even small but regular changes – such as climbing the stairs instead of using an escalator – can have significant effects.”
The guidance stresses that not all dementia risks can be eliminated, given some will have a genetic susceptibility to the condition, and warns against suggesting those who develop it are “at fault”.
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There is now mounting evidence that a healthy lifestyle from mid-life can help to reduce the risk of dementia in later life, but public understanding of the risk factors for dementia is still low.”