Abu Dhabi: Although there are currently about 4,300 patients suffering from dementia in the UAE, the high prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes may cause a 600 per cent increase in the rate of dementia by 2030, international medical experts said in the capital on Sunday.

This would mean that more than 30,000 patients could suffer from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, Dr Anders Wimo, adjunct professor of geriatric general medicine at Sweden’s renowned medical university, the Karolinska Institute, told Gulf News.

Researchers from the institute therefore called for greater awareness about the mental disorder and its effects on patients and their families. They also urged greater capacity building among health professionals to enable the treatment and management of the condition.

Diabetes currently affects 19 per cent of the UAE’s adult population, and about 40 per cent of those aged 50 and older. Without lifestyle changes, this is set to grow.

“Unfortunately, the risk of Alzheimer’s, which rises with age, is also to known to increase about threefold with diabetes. Even with borderline high blood sugar, when a patient is not yet diagnosed as diabetic, the risk is doubled in comparison to those without diabetes,” said Dr Miia Kivipelto, professor of clinical geriatric epidemiology at Karolinska Institute and senior geriatrician at the associate hospital.

Alzheimer’s changes the ability of patients to lead normal lives, as they suffer from progressive memory loss and gradually lose motor skills. Moreover, their relationships are also hampered because patients display disruptive behaviours, or suffer from depression and apathy. Often, it is necessary for families to seek professional help and nursing solutions.

The experts therefore recommended that the UAE invest in educating primary health-care workers on the early signs of dementia.

“There is a clear gap in education and staffing at present. We need to create awareness among caregivers and family members, especially as memory training and better control of diabetes and related diseases can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 50 per cent. Older patients could also be screened for dementia during routine health-care visits,” Dr Kivipelto said.

Towards that end, the Shaikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, a philanthropic organisation founded by the wife of General Shaikh Mohmmad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, on Saturday organised an educational symposium for medical professionals.

Meera Al Mutawa, the Foundation’s leader for health programming, said six researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden are also being supported through a three-year grant that aims to advance scientific research on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dementia.

While the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s is not yet fully known, the two conditions share similar risk factors: a poor diet and physical inactivity.

It is hypothesised that high blood sugar causes damage to brain cells, especially because the level of insulin, which plays a protective role for brain cells, is reduced among diabetics. Another theory is that the risk of vascular diseases that affect blood cells is higher among diabetics. These vascular diseases could cause strokes, and a third of patients who have suffered from a stroke develop dementia.

“If a patient is obese, or has high blood pressure or cholesterol, the risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s in 20 years’ time is doubled. And if the patient has all three conditions, the risk is six times greater,” Dr Kivipelto explained.