This dementia research will surprise you

New research points to going natural as the best way to ward off dementia and in treating patients.

Key Points

  • UK research identifies processed meat as a dementia risk
  • 25 grams of some processed meats a day, the size of a rasher of bacon, is associated with a 44% increased risk of developing the disease
  • Australian dementia researchers find non-drug treatments more effective than chemicals

Cut back processed meats and cut out chemicals in dementia care. They are take-home messages of two research projects into preventing dementia and caring for people with the disease.

A University of Leeds study suggests eating processed meat increases the risk of developing dementia.

Even consuming just 25 grams of some processed meats a day, the size of a rasher of bacon, is associated with a 44% increased risk of developing the disease.

Meat eating has previously been associated with dementia risk, but the researchers believe that this is the first study of its kind to find a link between specific meat types and amounts, and the risk of developing the disease.

Some unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork or veal, could be protective, as people who consumed 50g a day were 19% less likely to develop dementia. 

Dementia affects 5 to 8% of over 60s worldwide.

The team studied data provided by UK Biobank, a database containing in-depth genetic and health information from 500-thousand UK participants aged 40 to 69.  

The findings suggest the risks from eating processed meat were the same whether or not a person was genetically predisposed to developing the disease. 

Those who consumed higher amounts of processed meat were more likely to be male, less educated, smokers, overweight or obese, had lower intakes of vegetables and fruits, and had higher intakes of energy, protein, and fat (including saturated fat). 

Go natural - not chemicals

Australian researchers have found non-drug treatments for people with dementia in nursing homes delivers significantly better outcomes for improved quality of life than pharmacological interventions.

Yet up to 48% per cent of the more than 100,000 aged-care residents living with dementia in Australia are being prescribed anti­-psychotic drugs, despite them being considered a treatment of last resort, the research report says.

The study, Evaluating the Clinical Impact of National Dementia Behaviour Support Programs on Neuropsychiatric Outcomes in Australia, is reported to be the world’s largest population-based study of dementia behaviour. It looked at almost 6000 Australians living with dementia across 2000 nursing homes, finding almost all behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia could be helped by non-pharmacological treatments.

The residents with dementia daily deal with symptoms such as agitation, aggression, anxiety, delusions, hallucin­ations and disinhibition.

Interventions such as cognitive stimulation, activity planning and encouraging reminiscence, occupational therapy, aromatherapy and music therapy delivered substantially better results than pharmaceuticals, the study found.

“Non-pharmaceutical treatments for nursing home residents with dementia have been recommended for years, but this study shows that the impact of those interventions dwarfs that of antipsychotics,” associate professor Stephen Macfarlane, head of clinical services at Dementia Support Australia and the report’s lead author, told The Australian.