WHO Releases Guidelines for Reducing Risk for Dementia and Cognitive Decline


The WHO guidelines specifically promote a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding the harmful use of alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and keeping healthy levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released new guidelines for reducing the risk for cognitive decline and dementia, placing an emphasis on adopting a healthy lifestyle.1

The guidelines provide a base of knowledge for physicians and health care providers to advise their patients on what lifestyle changes they can make to best reduce their risk for developing dementia and cognitive decline, specifically by exercising regularly, not smoking, avoiding the harmful use of alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and keeping healthy levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.2

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, in a statement. “We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirms what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

Dementia has been on the rise in recent decades, with nearly 10 million new cases worldwide each year, and an impact spanning to almost 50 million individuals. Among older patients—another area trending upward—dementia is a leading cause of dependency and disability and has an enormous economic burden on both the public as well as the medical community. WHO stated that the costs of caring for people with dementia are anticipated to rise to $2 trillion annually by 2030.

Ren Minghui, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant director-general for communicable diseases, WHO, noted in the guidelines’ forward that those with noncommunicable diseases share a majority of risk factors with dementia, therefore making these new guidelines a utility for coordinated approaches to both dementia and things such as tobacco cessation, cardiovascular disease risk reduction, and nutrition. He urged everyone with a stake in the game to “make the best use of these recommendations to improve the lives of people with dementia, their carers, and families.”

WHO has also stated that these guidelines can be utilized by governments, policymakers, and planning authorities as guidance in developing policy and crafting programs that promote healthy lifestyles. This guideline is one part of the organization’s Global Action Plan for the Public Health Response to Dementia, a multi-part plan to improve the lives of patients with dementia, as well as caregivers and relatives by ultimately reducing dementia’s impact on communities.3

“Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones,” Dévora Kestel, MSc, director, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO. “This is why WHO created iSupport. iSupport is an online training program providing carers of people with dementia with advice on [the] overall management of care, dealing with behavior changes and how to look after their own health.”

According to WHO, iSupport is being used in 8 countries currently, with more likely to follow.

In addition to reducing dementia’s overall prevalence, WHO is also hoping to strengthen information systems for those dealing with dementia; improve the diagnosis, treatment and care of the condition; and research and innovation in the field.

Additionally, WHO has its Global Dementia Observatory, an assemblage of data regarding country activities and resources for dementia, including national plans and dementia-friendly initiatives, awareness campaigns, and facilities for care. The Observatory was launched in December 2017, and its data includes information from 21 countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, France, Japan, Jordan, and Togo. In total, 80 countries are now engaged in providing data to WHO.

The entirety of the new guidelines can be found here: Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO Guidelines.


1. Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia. World Health Organization. Published online May 14, 2019. who.int/mental_health/neurology/dementia/guidelines_risk_reduction. Accessed May 15, 2019.

2. Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk of dementia [press release]. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; Published May 14, 2019. who.int/news-room/detail/14-05-2019-adopting-a-healthy-lifestyle-helps-reduce-the-risk-of-dementia. Accessed May 15, 2019.

3. Global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017 — 2025. World Health Organization. who.int/mental_health/neurology/dementia/action_plan_2017_2025. Published 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019.

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