Home Mental Health & Well-Being Can Social Prescribing Help in the Fight Against Dementia?

Can Social Prescribing Help in the Fight Against Dementia?

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Members of u3a were over the moon to enjoy an insight into Sir Muir Gray’s knowledge when he gave a talk this week. His presentation on reducing the risk of dementia was part of a series that aims to inform, inspire and influence members to live better future lives. As one of the world’s foremost experts on ageing, Sir Gray feels that the u3a can be seen as a health and dementia risk reduction service, on account of members being involved in social and physical activities.

A proud u3a member himself, Sir Gray is an adviser to both NHS England and Public Health England. He was the NHS’s chief knowledge officer and was awarded both a CBE and, later, a knighthood for services to the NHS. He has published a book for people aged 70 called “Sod 70!”. In 2022, he published “How to Increase Your Brainability and Reduce Your Risk of Dementia” with Charles Alessi and Larry Chambers.

Based on his research and experience, he has developed a new paradigm to help people live longer and better, to compress morbidity at the end of life and to diminish the incidence of dementia and frailty, therefore reducing the need for social care.

Sir Muir Gray says, “Alzheimer’s disease is a dreadful condition which cannot yet be prevented but the good news is that it is only one of the causes of dementia. It is the major cause but your risk of dementia can be reduced by about 30%. There are three main strategies: First, reduce your risk of what is called vascular dementia, which is caused by the same risk factors as heart disease. Second, protect your brain tissue from the effects of stress, inactivity, and too many chemicals. Thirdly, and this is perhaps the most relevant for the u3a, staying engaged and involved, being challenged intellectually, and engaging with others.”

Social or activity prescribing is a means of enabling health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. With one-fifth of GP time spent on non-health issues such as housing, debt, and social issues, social prescribing potentially reduces costs and demands on healthcare. Even more importantly, people who are having drugs prescribed are not getting knowledge about the benefits of physical, cognitive, and emotional activity.

Often, this should be prescribed instead of a drug, but the GP has no other options. Furthermore, for people who present with health issues, such as low mood or depression (which could relate to being lonely or isolated), referring them to a local organisation such as a u3a may be much more effective than prescribing medication. Much of what u3as offers in the community is relevant to those who may be experiencing social isolation or need to build community networks following retirement, relocation, or bereavement.

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