Reduce dementia risk: bring patients up to speed on prevention

Did you know that many older adults are still unaware of the power of prevention when it comes to dementia? Linus Health’s new report, Patient Voices on Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias, revealed that 1 in 4 of the 1,000 older adults surveyed still believe that dementia is genetic and there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

Emerging evidence, however, demonstrates that lifestyle based interventions can play a powerful role in the trajectory of an individual’s cognitive health. For example, the results to date of the ongoing Finnish intervention study to prevent cognitive decline and disability (i.e. FINGER study) show that simple lifestyle interventions (e.g. strength training 1-3 times per week, moderate aerobic activity 2-5 times per week) can have a tangible positive impact on cognitive performance.

What patients know about lifestyle impact on dementia risk

The survey results showed wide variability in awareness of the impact of lifestyle on cognitive health. For example, when asked to choose from a list of possible strategies for preventing dementia, only 40% knew that spending more time socializing can lower one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Less than half (48%) were aware that cutting back or stopping alcohol consumption could reduce their risk and. Similarly, getting more sleep is also beneficial, but almost half of respondents didn’t know that.

On the plus side, 57% reported that they knew eating healthier food and/or losing weight can help prevent dementia and 69% were aware of the benefits of increasing their physical activity when it comes to protecting brain health. And a full 84% recognized that challenging the brain with mental activities can lower the chances of dementia.

That’s great news, but the lack of awareness about other lifestyle interventions is concerning, as is the fact that 25% of older adults don’t know that preventing dementia is possible. However, this also presents a tremendous opportunity. Encouragingly, the direct link between healthy habits in day-to-day life and reducing dementia risk has a motivational impact on older adults. A whopping 95% of survey respondents said they’d be willing to make one or more lifestyle changes if they knew it could help prevent dementia. The most likely changes they would make are:

  • taking part in challenging mental activities (85%),
  • increasing physical activity (74%),
  • eating healthier foods (70%), and
  • getting more sleep (59%).

PCPs have an essential role to play

The researchers on the FINGER study concluded, “Lifestyle counseling and facilitating lifestyle changes should be implemented in primary healthcare to maintain and improve cognitive and physical function of aging people, and to thus decrease disability.” PCPs can play a powerful role by providing proactive lifestyle counseling targeted towards cognitive health as early on as possible.

The good news is, patients are eager to hear from them.  In fact, 75% of older adults say they’d like more info from their PCPs on ways to reduce their dementia risk. PCPs can also help to dispel common myths, such as the idea that dementia is a normal part of aging, and provide additional education on signs and symptoms of early cognitive impairment to look out for.

Older adults want to be proactive about cognitive health

While emerging science around prevention strategies isn’t yet common knowledge among older adults, the survey showed that people are eager to be more proactive about their cognitive health overall. This presents a real opportunity for those on the front lines of healthcare to educate patients about lifestyle changes and promote their implementation as part of a healthy aging program.

This survey identified trends within dementia prevention and care that have a wide variety of possible implications for providers, patients, caregivers, and the healthcare system. To learn more about the findings, download the Patient Voices on Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias Report.