Background: Recently, it has been suggested that up to a third of the dementia cases might be preventable. While prevention is always better than cure, this is particularly important in the field of dementia, as current interventions are not able to modify the disease. This article revises the evidence "for" and "against" dementia primary prevention.
Discussion: Evidence "for" is sustained by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care that noted a reduction of age-related incidence of dementia in high-income countries. Based on results from large cohort studies and using population attributable risk, the commission concluded that up to 35% of dementia cases could be prevented by modifying nine risk factors: low education, midlife hearing loss, obesity, hypertension, late-life depression, smoking, physical inactivity, diabetes, and social isolation. In this life course conceptual framework, modifications of risk factors can influence dementia decades before clinical disease onset. However, evidence "against" is supported by large randomized controlled trials (RCT, > 250 participants per arm, minimum of 6 months follow-up), primarily set to prevent dementia using lifestyle interventions that have shown modest or negative results. The 2017 National Academy of Medicine report concluded that the current evidence is limited and there are no specific interventions to warrant a public health recommendation for dementia prevention. Multiple pathological pathways are involved in the development of dementia which are theoretically treatable by managing midlife hearing loss and hypertension, and with physical exercise and education, as suggested by robust observational studies. However, evidence from large clinical trials is not conclusive to support that a third of dementia cases might be prevented. Current initiatives testing the effect of lifestyle interventions in larger clinical trials may help to settle this debate.
Keywords: Debate; Dementia; Lifestyle interventions; Multidomain trials; Prevention.