Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

AARP Research on brain health highlights U.S. adults' experiences with and feelings about dementia, delirium, music and brain health, mental health, and maintaining a healthy brain.

spinner image Three-dimensional rendering of firing neurons

DEMENTIA

  • Stress is all-too-common among midlife and older adults.Overall, more than one-quarter (27%) of adults 40 and over report high stress. Those in their 40s were more likely (38%) to be highly stressed than those in their 50s (33%) as well as those in their 60s (18%) and those over 70 (13%). More women than men 40-plus report high stress (30% vs. 24%). [Source: Midlife and Older Adults’ Health Study, fielded November 2020.] 

Staying mentally sharp is a common aim.

Adults 40 and over and health care providers agree that a healthy lifestyle is important for brain health.

  • Seven in ten (71%) adults ages 40-plus say they would be extremely or very likely to engage in mentally stimulating activities if they knew the activity might help them maintain their mental functioning; nine in ten (91%) health care provider think such activities would help with symptoms of dementia.

  • Seven in ten (69%) adults ages 40 and over report that they would be extremely or very likely to eat a proper diet if they knew it would assist with mental functioning; nearly eight in ten (78%) health care providers believe eating a proper diet would help with symptoms of dementia.

  • Similarly, seven in ten (69%) adults 40-plus report that they would be extremely or very likely to get enough sleep if they knew it would assist with mental functioning; nearly eight in ten (78%) health care providers believe getting enough sleep would help with symptoms of dementia.

  • Six in ten (60%) adults ages 40 and over report that they would be extremely or very likely to get regular exercise if they knew it would assist with mental functioning; more than nine in ten (92%) health care providers think getting regular exercise would help with symptoms of dementia.  

[Sources: 2021 AARP Survey on the Perceptions Related to a Dementia Diagnosis: Attitudes Among Healthcare Providers, fielded March 11–17, 2021, and 2021 AARP Survey on the Perceptions Related to a Dementia Diagnosis: Adults Ages 40+, fielded March 12–24, 2021.] 

Fear, confusion, and false information often cloud the truth about dementia.

Health care providers have misperceptions of how adults ages 40 and over perceive dementia.

  • Nine in ten (91%) older adults said they want their health care provider to tell them about a dementia diagnosis, but only about eight in ten (78%) providers said they always tell their patients the truth.

  • Roughly seven in ten (69%) health care providers said their patients would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia, yet only one-fifth (19%) of adults ages 40-plus said they would feel that way.

  • Three-quarters (74%) of health care providers believe that their patients would like a baseline cognitive evaluation, while about half (54%) of adults said the same thing.

[Sources: 2021 AARP Survey on the Perceptions Related to a Dementia Diagnosis: Attitudes Among Healthcare Providers, fielded March 11–17, 2021,  and 2021 AARP Survey on the Perceptions Related to a Dementia Diagnosis: Adults Ages 40+, fielded March 12–24, 2021.]

DELIRIUM

Healthcare professionals are familiar with delirium, but midlife and older adults are not. 

  • Seven in ten (or more) healthcare providers say they are extremely/very familiar with symptoms of delirium, including patients saying things that do not make sense (76%), confusion about daily events (76%), and difficulty understanding what is happening (76%). [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Healthcare Providers, fielded November 17–23, 2019.] 
  • Only about a quarter (21%) of adults 50 and over are at least somewhat familiar with delirium and more than half (52%) are not at all familiar with delirium. [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Healthcare Providers, fielded November 17–23, 2019.]

Delirium is uncommon but challenging.

  • Most midlife and older adults lack exposure to delirium, with over one in twenty adults ages 50 and older (7%) saying they have experienced delirium and one in five (20%) witnessing a loved one or friend experience delirium. Difficulty understanding what was happening (45%) and incoherence (43%) were the top delirium symptoms experienced by adults [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Adults Ages 50+, fielded November 17–23, 2019.]

  • Most health care providers say at least a quarter of their patients across all ages groups have experienced delirium. One in five (21%) say at least a quarter of their patients have experienced long-term effects of delirium. [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Healthcare Providers, fielded November 17–23, 2019.]

Patient comfort factors are cited most often as an effective strategy to prevent or treat delirium.

  • Nearly all health care providers believe having a loved one or friend stay at the hospital as much as possible is an effective way to prevent or treat delirium along with bringing eye glasses and hearing aids to the hospital. [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Healthcare Providers, fielded November 17–23, 2019.] 

  • Similarly, the most common strategy to manage or treat an episode of delirium cited by adults 50 and older who experienced or witnessed delirium was for someone familiar to the patient to stay with them as much as possible. [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Adults Ages 50+, fielded November 17–23, 2019.]

Delirium can be a frightening experience.

  • Among adults who experienced delirium themselves, more than four in ten (44%) described their experience as at least somewhat frightening, and nearly one-fifth (19%) said they were extremely or very frightened. Among adults who were witnesses to a delirium episode, more than six in ten (63%) felt that their loved one was at least somewhat frightened by their experience, and one-quarter (25%) said they were extremely or very frightened. [Source: 2020 AARP Delirium and Brain Health Study: Adults Ages 50+, fielded November 17–23, 2019.]

MUSIC AND BRAIN HEALTH

Not just talkin’ ‘bout my generation.

  • About one-third (45%) of adults ages 18 and over spend half the time or more listening to background music during everyday activities. [Source: 2020 Music and Brain Health Survey, fielded April 1–14, 2020.]

  • Eight in ten (81%) adults said they enjoy music from before their generation, half (49%) like music from after their generation, and just one in eleven (9%) only like music from their own generation. [Source: 2020 Music and Brain Health Survey, fielded April 1–14, 2020.]

Listening to music while engaged in everyday activities has a small, positive effect on mental well-being, anxiety, and depression.

  • Adults ages 18-plus who listen to music while engaging in routine activities have slightly higher average mental well-being scores (51.4 vs. 47.0) and slightly lower anxiety (12.4 vs. 13.3) and depression scores (16.9 vs. 21.3) compared to adults who never have music on in the background. [Source: 2020 Music and Brain Health Survey, fielded April 1–14, 2020.]

  • Adults ages 18 and over who report listening to background music more often have higher ratings for some cognitive functions and self-reported brain health. [Source: 2020 Music and Brain Health Survey, fielded April 1–14, 2020.]

A majority of adults ages 18 and older listen to recorded music in a focused way and enjoy higher average well-being scores.

  • More than eight in ten (82%) adults ages 18-plus have ever listened to recorded music in a deliberate and focused way, and two-thirds (67%) say they currently engage in this activity.

  • Adults ages 18 and over who listen to recorded music in a focused way have slightly higher average mental well-being scores (51.5 vs. 48.9) and slightly lower anxiety (11.9 vs. 12.8) and depression scores (15.6 vs. 18.3) than adults who have never listened to recorded music in a focused way.

  • Adults ages 18-plus who currently listen intently to recorded music are significantly more likely to self-rate aspects of their cognitive function as excellent or very good compared to adults who have never engaged in this activity. [Source: 2020 Music and Brain Health Survey, fielded April 1–14, 2020.]

It is never too late to reap the benefits of music appreciation.

Among adults ages 65 and over, current engagement in music amplifies the mental well-being effects of early music exposure or makes up for a lack of initial musical exposure. [Source: 2020 Music and Brain Health Survey, fielded April 1–14, 2020.]

MENTAL HEALTH, EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING, AND RESILIENCY

The emotional impact of the pandemic has led some older adults to increase both positive and negative coping habits.

  • Although many believe that the pandemic crisis is over, there have been some lingering positive and negative mental/emotional effects. One-fifth (19%) of older adults ages 50 and older say compared to before the pandemic they are now sleeping or napping more. We could see this behavior as positive (increased rest and relaxation) or negative (being less active). On the more negative side, one in ten (10%) say they overreact or lose control more often now than they did before the pandemic. [Source: 2021 AARP COVID and Emotional Wellbeing Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older, fielded April 2021.]

Despite a decline in emotional well-being among older adults because of the pandemic, few have sought help from a mental health professional.

  • Although the vast majority of older adults say they have experienced a decline in their emotional well-being (i.e., increased anxiety, depression, worry, etc.), only one in eight (12%) sought help from a mental health professional. A third (32%) of those who sought help from a mental health professional in the past year say they sought help because of the pandemic. [Source: 2021 AARP COVID and Emotional Wellbeing Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older, fielded April 2021.] 

  • Interestingly, nearly half (45%) of older adults ages 50-plus say that prior to the start of the pandemic, it was likely they would have sought help from a mental health provider if they had mental health concerns.  About one in seven (15%) say the experience of the pandemic has increased the likelihood they would seek help from a mental health provider. [Source: 2021 AARP COVID and Emotional Wellbeing Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older, fielded April 2021.] 

While older adults rate their emotional well-being and resiliency high, a deeper dive reveals many have trouble bouncing back from hardship.

  • When asked about emotional health, two-thirds (64%) of adults ages 50 and over say their emotional health is very good or better; however, when asked about specific emotional health measures, we find many have been bothered by several issues — half (52%) said they had difficulty falling or staying asleep, more than four in ten (45%) had been bothered by anxiety, and about one-third reported little interest or pleasure in doing things (34%) or had feelings of depression or helplessness (31%). 45% had been bothered by anxiety. [Source: 2022 AARP Healthy Living Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older, fielded February 24 and March 1, 2022.]

  • About six in 10 (58%) adults ages 50-plus rate their level of resiliency as high (8, 9, or 10 out of 10). However, when asked about specific measures of resiliency, a sizable number of older adults said they struggle with adapting and bouncing back when things don’t go as planned and/or during hardship (39%). [Source: 2022 AARP Healthy Living Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older, fielded February 24 and March 1, 2022.]

Mind over matter: Midlife and older adults’ higher resiliency seems to mean a more positive outlook on aging.

  • Those who say they have a high level of resiliency (8, 9, or 10 out of 10) are significantly more likely than those who say they have a medium level of resiliency (4 to 7 out of 10) to agree they are aging well and have a positive outlook on aging. For example, four in ten (42%) adults ages 50 and over who rate their resiliency high say they are aging well, compared to about one in ten (13%) of those who rate their level of resiliency in the medium range. Similarly, adults with a high resiliency level are more likely than those with medium levels of resiliency to say they have a lot to look forward to as they ages (47% vs. 13%). [Source: 2022 AARP Healthy Living Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older, fielded February 24 and March 1, 2022.]