At the first G8 dementia summit in London, world leaders are looking for ways to tackle the mind-robbing condition that is expected to affect 1.4 million Canadians by 2040, and research into healthy lifestyle is providing some clues.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is using his country's presidency of the G8 to lead Wednesday's summit on what his government says is fast becoming one of the greatest pressures on families, caregivers and health systems around the world.

Dementia Dr. Larson

In the face of all the predictions about vast numbers of people who will develop dementia, prevention offers a reason for optimism, says Dr. Eric Larson. (CBC)

The summit aims to shape solutions, such as an international approach to dementia research.

G8 health ministers and other delegates are discussing topics such as adapting to an aging society, how to prevent and delay dementia, and improve life and care for people affected.

British Health Minister Jeremy Hunt said in an opening speech that there are lessons to be learned from other diseases.

"Let's fight the stigma around dementia in society," Hunt told delegates. "When I was born in the 1960s people didn't like talking about cancer. The first step to improving treatment was to make it normal and we need to do that now with dementia.''

As the world’s populations age, the World Health Organization estimates 65.7 million will be living with dementia globally in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050, with much of the increase in developing countries.

However the news isn't all bad. In developed countries, dementia incidence rates among people born in the first half of the 20th century declined in two recent U.S. studies and three from Europe, said Dr. Eric Larson of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.

"We should be optimistic. In the face of all the predictions about vast numbers of people who because of good health are living to get this disease, it's now time to apply our efforts to prevention," Larson said in an interview from London, where he is attending the summit.  

Last month, Larson co-authored a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggested focusing on greater physical activity, diet, educational opportunities, treating hypertension and quitting smoking can help prevent dementia.

Because rates went down, there is a high likelihood that Alzheimer's disease and dementia are preventable, Larson said.

The prevention strategies are common sense measures that really pay off in old, old age, he said.

The Canadian Medical Association said Canada is one of the few G8 countries without a national dementia strategy. The group wants a strategy that would  expand research, increase support for informal caregivers and ensure access to care, as part of an overall seniors' strategy. 

With files from Reuters