Many older adults in the United States may misinterpret their chances for dementia and do useless things to prevent them.
Nearly half of the adults surveyed believed that they had dementia. The findings suggest that many have not understood the relationship between physical health and brain health and how racial differences can affect the risk of dementia.
A considerable number of people who assessed their health as fair or poor considered their dementia probabilities to be low. At the same time, many who claimed to be in good health admitted that they were likely to have a memory-robbing illness.
Many claimed to have tried at least one of four unproven methods of memory protection, including taking supplements such as fish oil and ginkgo. The most popular strategy was solving crossword puzzles. It is believed that mental stimulation helps, but there are stronger signs of more challenging activities than puzzles ̵
Research has shown that regular exercise, good nutrition, limiting alcohol consumption and non-smoking reduce the likelihood of dementia. Supplements have shown no effect.
"We really did not speak well about the fact that you can really do something to lower your risk," Dr. Donovan Maust, the lead author of the study and a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Michigan.
The study was published online today in JAMA Neurology. It is based on a nationwide representative health survey of 1,000 adults aged 50 to 64 years.
The survey asked people to assess their likelihood of developing dementia and discuss with their doctor if they had ever discussed prevention options. Few people claimed to suffer from dementia regardless of their self-classification risk.
The findings are of concern as doctors can help people treat conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes associated with dementia risk, according to Maus.  Of those who stated that their physical health was mediocre or poor, 40% said they had a low risk of Alzheimer's or other dementias. Almost the same part considered their chances to be probable, even though they reported very good or excellent physical health.
More whites than blacks or Hispanics who were interviewed believed they were likely to develop dementia, and nearly two-thirds of Blacks said they were unlikely. Only 93 blacks were interviewed, making it difficult to translate these results to all US blacks. But US minorities face a higher risk of dementia than whites – blacks are at twice the risk – and the Alzheimer's group has programs in black and Hispanic communities.
"There's a lot to do … to educate the public so they can do something to protect themselves," Fargo said.
Every third senior dies according to the Alzheimer's Association of Alzheimer's or other dementias. While there are no medications or medical treatments to prove it, strong European studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle can help prevent mental decline. The Alzheimer's Association promotes similar US research.
The new study used data from the University of Michigan National Survey on Healthy Aging. Adults were interviewed online in October 2018. Funding was provided by AARP, the University of Michigan's Health Care System, and US Government grants.