Patients and health care providers aren’t always on the same page when it comes to dementia. And stigma surrounding the disease factors into the disconnect, new AARP research shows.
Nearly 20 percent of adults 40 and older say they would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia, according to an AARP survey presented at the Milken Institute’s Future of Health Summit. Health care providers, however, assume a much greater share of patients (about 70 percent) would feel this way if handed a diagnosis.
Loss of independence fuels the fear of a dementia diagnosis, the survey found — so does the thought of becoming a burden to others. The research also reveals that far too many adults age 40 and older assume dementia is inevitable, when it’s not. Nearly half (48 percent) think it’s likely they’ll get dementia as they age; in reality about 11 percent of U.S. adults 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
“The harsh stigma dementia carries can overshadow the fact that a diagnosis is just part of a longer story, that people can continue to live meaningful lives for years to come,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP senior vice president for policy and Global Council on Brain Health executive director. “We found that most adults look to their health care providers for straightforward information on dementia, showing a great opportunity for improved lines of communication when it comes to brain health.”
This straightforward information and a greater understanding of dementia can help break the stigma that surrounds the disease. Here are four reasons why you should be discussing dementia with your doctor — plus, tips for bringing it up.
1. Small lifestyle changes can have a big impact
If you have high blood pressure, getting it under control can help stave off cognitive impairment. Exercise is another boon for the brain — so is quality sleep and a healthy diet. In fact, up to 40 percent of dementia cases can be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes such as these, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And your doctor can help identify the habits to break and the activities to add to give your brain a boost.
A majority of adults age 40 and older said they would be likely to add brain-healthy activities into their daily lives if they knew that the activity may help them maintain their mental functioning, AARP found. These activities include:
- Engaging in mentally stimulating activities
- Eating a proper diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing stress effectively
- Engaging socially
- Getting regular exercise
Some good news: It doesn’t take much to move the needle, says Paul Rosenberg, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and codirector of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center. “People who are sedentary get significant benefit from starting to exercise,” and that could be a walk in the neighborhood, not necessarily a half-marathon race, he explains.