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How a Lack of Awareness Is Driving the Alzheimer’s Epidemic

By | November 10th, 2020

As many as one third of dementia cases may be preventable with lifestyle changes, but a recent survey finds that many Americans are not aware of how to reduce their risk.

A nationwide September study revealed that many Americans lack the understanding of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, even though Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

The research from MDVIP and Ipsos found that while two thirds of Americans worry about cognitive decline, most reported that they have not spoken with their doctor about brain health or risk factors. The majority of Americans ages 55 and older — 65 percent — have never had a cognitive screening test, despite that regular assessments are key to early detection, diagnosis and treatment of brain disease, and that one in 10 people over the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death and declining health in the U.S., yet our data shows that the disease is still widely misunderstood,” MDVIP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrea Klemes said in a news release.

“As the baby boomer generation ages, the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is expected to skyrocket, underscoring the need to improve brain health literacy among physicians and patients,” Klemes said. “While there is currently no proven treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s, there are actions people can take to help lower their risk of cognitive decline, starting with everyday lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.”

The researchers conducted the survey of roughly 1,217 adults ages 18 and up from the United States through online interviews. The precision of the online poll was measured with a credibility interval of ±3.2 percentage points for all respondents.

Genetics and age are two major Alzheimer’s risk factors, but there are factors which people do have control over, and addressing those factors could help prevent as many as one in three dementia cases. But, while four out of five survey participants said they wanted to reduce their dementia and Alzheimer’s risk, most were not aware of the controllable risk factors that may allow them to do so, like exercise, diet changes, healthy lifestyle changes, treatment of hearing loss, depression and other factors, some of which may help prevent dementia even for the genetically predisposed.

  • 74 percent don’t know that hearing loss is damaging to the brain.
  • 72 percent don’t know that diabetes is a major risk factor for dementia.
  • 64 percent don’t know lack of sleep can reduce the size of the brain.
  • 50 percent don’t know about the relationship between emotional well-being and brain health.
  • The survey also demonstrates the need for greater awareness about how to protect the brain, with 70 percent of Americans admitting they aren’t knowledgeable about ways to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • 77 percent haven’t been coached by their doctor on lifestyle habits that support brain health.
  • 51 percent have never been screened for depression.
  • 44 percent have never had a neurological exam.
  • 32 percent have never had their hearing checked.

Further, the coronavirus pandemic’s emotional toll — particularly for those living with cognitive impairment and disease — has led to conditions that can exacerbate declining brain health.

Following the initial poll, Ipsos and MDVIP issued a second poll to understand the effect of the pandemic on brain health, which included a sample of 1,005 adults ages 18 and up from across the U.S. with a credibility interval of ±3.5.

More than half of all adults reported changes in sleep (58 percent), moodiness (57 percent) and withdrawal from loved ones (51 percent). Meanwhile, 60 percent of participants reported that a family member has had difficulty coping with isolation or loneliness spurred by social distancing and quarantines (67 percent), cognitive decline (63 percent) and increased depression or anxiety (62 percent).

Yet, fewer than one in 10 survey participants said they had sought guidance or help from their medical care providers.

“We don’t yet know the long-lasting consequences that the pandemic will have on the brain, and we hope that research such as ours will continue to shine a light on this very serious health issue,” Klemes said.

“In the MDVIP network, physicians provide a comprehensive yearly health assessment that includes advanced diagnostic tests and screenings to give a more complete view of the patient’s overall health,” he added. “Brain health checks, just like testing for high cholesterol or diabetes, should be a regular part of preventive care, and partnering with a primary care doctor is an important first step.”

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