People entering middle age should cut down the amount they drink as much as possible to reduce the risk of developing dementia, disability and frailty in later life, the national health authority has said.
That and other changes such as stopping smoking, exercising more, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight after reaching 40 can have a big impact on people’s health in old age, according to the guidance.
Ageing men typically face about eight years of ill-health and a further seven years of disability, while women will have nine years of both ill-health and disability. But this decline is not inevitable, according to the latest advice by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
Robin Ireland, chief executive of Health Equalities Group and guideline developer, 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 calls on authorities to develop policies to reduce drinking across the population, including measures to make alcohol less accessible, affordable and acceptable, in light of evidence showing it was a major risk factor for ill-health.
Although the NHS advises men against drinking more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, and women drinking 2-3 units, previous Nice guidance has warned that “drinking alcohol is never without risk” and the NHS guidelines are being reviewed.
However, a Nice spokeswoman denied the document called on the over-40s to become teetotal, as had been claimed in some reports. She said: “The guideline does not specifically recommend that people ‘stop drinking altogether’.
“The guideline states that ‘alcohol consumption can increase the risk of dementia, disability and frailty’ and people should be encouraged ‘to reduce the amount they drink as much as possible’.”
The guidance also recommends extending smoke-free policies to more public places, including parks, open air markets and sports grounds, and adapting public spaces “to encourage and enable everyone to build physical activity into their daily lives”.
It also calls for new measures to improve diets, such as limiting the number of outlets selling unhealthy foods and improving access to affordable fruit and vegetables and information on how to prepare them. Supermarkets should be encouraged to offer promotions, such as 2-for-1 deals, on fruit and vegetables, the guidance says.
Nice defines mid-life as ages 40 to 64, but, for people from disadvantaged populations, includes those from ages 18 to 39. The latest advice specifically targets the mid-life group because it is a time of lots of changes including, for some, the onset of ill-health.
“It is commonly thought that physical decline is an inevitable part of growing older, but this is not necessarily the case,” a spokesperson said. “Changes in the way we live in mid-life can bring real benefits, delaying or even preventing dementia, disability and frailty in later life.”
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These guidelines are a hugely welcome shift in public health thinking, highlighting the need for a change in mid-life behaviour and lifestyle choices to reduce the risk of dementia.
“This advice needs to be extended to encourage those who go on to develop dementia to live well and prevent the condition deteriorating more quickly.
“Nice rightly highlights the significance and evidence for cardiovascular risk factors, but this focus must not overshadow the additional importance of psychological and social risks, such as stress, depression, social isolation and lack of mental activity.”
This article was written by Damien Gayle, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 21st October 2015 13.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010