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To prevent dementia, exercise and dropping vitamin tablets, new guidelines say

If you want to save your brain, focus on maintaining the rest of your body with exercise and healthy habits rather than vitamin pills, here are new guidelines to prevent dementia.

At present, about 50 million people have dementia and Alzheimer's disease is the most common type. The report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization reports 10 million new cases each year.

Although age is the main risk factor, "dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of aging," says the report.

Many health problems and behaviors affect the chances of developing it, and research suggests that one-third of cases are preventable, said Maria Carrillo, chief scientist of the Alzheimer's Association, who issued a similar opinion .

As dementia is currently incurable and so many experimental therapies have failed, focusing on prevention could "bring us more benefits in the short term," Carrillo said.

The essential advice from the WHO is common sense and echoes what the US National Institute on Aging says.

This includes getting enough exercise; treat other health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia; have an active social life and avoid or limit harmful habits such as smoking, eating too much and drinking too much alcohol. Some of them are unlikely to help maintain thinking skills, but they are known to improve overall health, according to the WHO.

Eating well, and possibly following a Mediterranean-style diet, can help prevent dementia, say the guidelines. But they take a firm stance against vitamin B or E pills, fish oil or multi-complex supplements that are promoted for brain health because many studies have shown that they were not working .

"There is currently no evidence that taking these supplements actually reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and we actually know that in high doses they can be harmful," Dr. Neerja said. Chowdhary, from the WHO.

"People should look for these nutrients in foods … not in supplements," Carrillo agreed.

The WHO has also not endorsed games and other activities to build thinking skills. These may be considered for people with normal abilities or mild impairment, but there is evidence of low to very low benefits.

There is not enough evidence to recommend antidepressants to reduce the risk of dementia, although they can be used to treat depression, the report says. Hearing aids may also not reduce the risk of dementia, but older people should be screened for hearing loss and treated accordingly.

Twitter @MMarchioneAP

The Health and Science Department of the Associated Press is receiving support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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