World Health Organization Issues Guidelines for Reducing Risk of Cognitive Decline

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation _______________________________________________
As research yields new insights about brain health, and in particular, about medications and lifestyle interventions that preserve cognition in later life, sanctioned guidelines become increasingly important as a means of guiding populations and healthcare systems in a positive direction.

To that end, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened a group of international experts to review the published evidence in support of several commonly discussed approaches to vital brain aging. From a thorough literature review and subsequent discussion, the group unanimously identified several "strong recommendations, and several "conditional recommendations".

The strong recommendations were for physical activity, cessation of tobacco use, and a brain-healthy diet as approaches with supporting evidence of benefits with minimal potential for adverse risks. While the evidence was less clear (in terms of likelihood for reducing risk of cognitive decline), the experts also strongly recommended strict control of hypertension and diabetes; two common chronic conditions that may impair cognition and that can be managed with no known adverse effects to brain health.

The group also made several conditional recommendations that would be appropriate on a case by case basis. These included careful weight management, control of total cholesterol levels, cognitive exercises, and treating alcohol abuse. The group concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to make recommendations about social activity or treatment of depression, although both of those approaches are well supported as beneficial in the larger context of overall health. The full 78-page report, including a concise summary of findings, can be downloaded at the WHO website.

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