New research on cognitive ageing and decline reveals seven key modifiable lifestyle factors which are attributed to dementia; the rising numbers of people with dementia; and the increasing cost to families, carers, and the economy.

The Australian research was released today by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), in collaboration with Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).

Lead researcher Professor Kaarin Anstey estimates that close to 50 per cent of dementia cases can be attributed to seven key modifiable lifestyle factors: midlife hypertension, diabetes, low educational attainment, smoking, physical inactivity, mid-life obesity, and depression.

The report also found that the knowledge-base around the cause of dementia in the senior community varied greatly, raising the need for in-depth dementia awareness workshops and community involvement.

“While some detrimental attributing factors to dementia such as smoking and alcohol consumption were known, other factors connected to cognitive health were unknown to over 95% of the sample population,” Prof Anstey said.

“This highlights the need for increased local community engagement and advocacy.”

The impact of dementia goes far beyond individual health. The report noted there are direct, indirect and intangible costs of dementia for the wider society and significant indirect costs to Australia’s economy. For example, dementia patients and those who care for them often have to withdraw from the workforce.

The report also brought attention to an under-researched area of cognitive ageing, financial frailty. CEPAR Director, Scientia Professor John Piggott, said what is clear from the 2018 CEPAR report is that those with cognitive impairment are more susceptible to poor financial decision-making.

“Our retirement income system is very complex and requires a lot of active decisions. We are only beginning to think about how population ageing will affect the decision-making ability of older cohorts and what insights psychology and behavioural finance can bring,” said Prof Piggott.

Commenting on the outcomes of the report, Professor Anstey said further investment into ageing research is needed to identify more risk factors, adapt the workplace for older workers, and develop strategies to guide financial decision-making in older age.

“We need to develop better diagnostic tests and assessments, increase community education to ensure risk factors attributed to dementia are better managed, and support carers to reduce carer distress in the broader community,” Prof Anstey said.

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