Half of older adults fear dementia. Here’s how to prevent it
Half of adults fear developing dementia, but many fail to undertake lifestyle changes in their 50s and 60s that might prevent the disease, say researchers at the University of Michigan.
A survey of more than 1,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 64 found that nearly half believe they are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia during their lifetime. However, just 5% have talked to a doctor about these fears and what can be done to prevent the disease.
Instead of consulting medical professionals, many people are taking matters into their own hands. This includes engaging in activities — from regularly working crossword puzzles to taking supplements such as fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid — that have not been shown to diminish dementia risk.
The Michigan researchers say the study findings reveal an unmet need for better counseling about the activities that can help promote brain health.
Dr. Donovan Maust — a geriatric psychiatrist specializing in dementia-related care and lead author of a JAMA Neurology journal article about the survey — says in a university announcement:
“There is growing evidence that adults in mid-life can take steps to lower their risk of dementia, including increasing physical activity and controlling health conditions like hypertension and diabetes. Unfortunately, our findings suggest that people may not be aware of this and are not asking their doctor.”
Quitting smoking also can reduce your risk of developing dementia, Maust says.
The researchers also found other mistaken perceptions about the risk of developing dementia. For example:
- While nearly 50% of survey respondents believe they are likely to develop dementia, the true risk of developing the disease after age 85 is lower than 1 in 3.
- African-American and Latino survey respondents largely do not believe they face a greater risk for dementia than whites. In reality, studies suggest Latinos are about 50% more likely to develop dementia than non-Latino whites. Meanwhile, African-Americans are about twice as likely to develop the disease.
- Survey respondents who judge their health as “fair” or “poor” do not believe they are at increased risk of dementia. In reality, conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease have been linked to a higher risk of dementia.