Dementia prevention, myths and facts: the relationship between age and dementia

One of the misconceptions about dementia is that it is simply a natural part of aging. However, this is a misconception. While it’s true that the likelihood of developing dementia increases in an aging society, it’s not inevitable and can be prevented and addressed early. From mild memory impairment, a pre-dementia stage, taking proactive steps can help you maintain a normal life. Dr. Dong-won Yang, President ofthe Korean Dementia Society, emphasizes the importance of early detection and response to dementia, noting that memory decline is often considered mild, leading to missed diagnosis and treatment.

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The Rise of Dementia: The State of South Korea

It’s 2023 and South Korea has entered the “1 million people with dementia era. According to statistics from the National Dementia Center, there are nearly 900,000 people over the age of 65 with dementia, or 1 in 10 people over the age of 65. Dementia is one of the leading causes of death, along with cancer and heart disease, with an average annual increase of about 50,000 people since 2017. Yang laments the lack of awareness of the process and symptoms of dementia, even though the onset can be delayed with the right response.

Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Understanding and Responding

Mild cognitive impairment refers to mild cognitive impairment that does not significantly interfere with daily activities. Dementia, on the other hand, is a condition that makes it difficult to lead a normal life, including poor memory and comprehension, and impaired sense of time and space. Starting proper prevention and treatment with mild cognitive impairment can slow the progression to dementia. At this stage, it’s possible to train the brain or learn something new, which is why cognitive therapy is so effective. Beyond this stage, Yang notes, the effectiveness of therapies decreases and cognitive therapy becomes difficult.

New horizons in dementia treatment: Lecanemab and donanemab.

A key advance in the treatment of dementia has been the development of antibody therapies. The recently developed lecanemab has been approved in the United States, Japan, and China, and is expected to be used in Korea. This treatment is effective in removing amyloid beta proteins, but it does not completely halt the progression of the disease.

It does not prevent it. Meanwhile, an antibody treatment called donanemab is showing better results and is in Phase III clinical trials in Korea. The introduction of these drugs is expected to take dementia care to the next level.

The importance of preventing and managing dementia

The limitations of radical treatments for dementia emphasize the importance of prevention, early diagnosis, and management. Prevention methods include exercise, cognitive training, and socialization, with exercise being the most beneficial for brain health. Yang recommends intense exercise for 40 to 50 minutes a day, at least five times a week, and emphasizes the importance of mental activity and social interaction.

Distress and support for families of people with dementia

Families of people with dementia experience significant physical and emotional distress from caring for their loved one. This requires support facilities such as day care centers, and rest and care are essential for the patient’s family. Yang is excited about the role of artificial intelligence (AI), predicting that AI robots will be able to companion patients, adjust the difficulty of cognitive tasks, and more.

The need to prepare for an ultra-elderly society and dementia

Korea has a well-established dementia management infrastructure, with cognitive function tests through the Dementia Relief Center, early detection of dementia, and early treatment. However, it requires additional infrastructure, such as specialized dementia hospitals. Yang emphasizes that the focus should be on strengthening prevention and care through early detection of dementia.

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