Almost half of people ages 50 to 64 are concerned about developing memory loss and dementia, according to the new National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Researchers also found that while nearly three-quarters of those surveyed were taking supplements or solving puzzles to maintain brain health, most have not talked with their doctors about more effective ways to prevent cognitive decline.
The poll, carried out by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, UM's academic medical center, asked 1,028 adults ages 50 to 64 a range of brain health questions.
About one-third of people polled had a history of dementia in their families or had been a caregiver to a loved one with dementia, and they were especially worried about their own brain health. For those with a family history of dementia, 73 percent thought they were likely or somewhat likely to develop dementia, while only 32 percent of people with no such family history considered themselves likely to do so.
Many reported that their memory is already weaker than it once was: 59 percent said it was slightly worse, and 7 percent that it was much worse. (Note that dementia is more than memory loss; it involves an impairment in your ability to do daily activities.)
In reality, fewer than 20 percent of people are likely to get dementia in their lifetime, says poll director Preeti Malani, M.D. She adds that an individual's risk depends on a variety of factors, including some related to genetics and some related to lifestyle choices.
According to the poll, however, many people are choosing to do things that aren't considered especially effective: “A lot of people say, ‘I do crossword puzzles to help my memory,’ and it's not clear that they're that helpful,” Malani says. “What you may miss out on are opportunities to actually decrease dementia risk.
“People should concentrate on those things we know can improve brain health,” says Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP. According to the Global Council on Brain Health, that includes eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising, socializing with friends and family, managing blood pressure and blood sugar, quitting smoking, keeping cholesterol in check and not drinking too much alcohol.
"There's not some magic thing” that will prevent dementia, Malani notes. “Truly good health is a lot more holistic.”