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Half of all older adults are worried about dementia, survey says

An analysis of University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging data finds that many older adults are relying on vitamins and supplements to maintain brain health.

By
Brian P. Dunleavy
Nearly half of all American adults are concerned they will develop dementia, an analysis of national survey data suggests. File photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Nearly half of all American adults are concerned they will develop dementia, an analysis of national survey data suggests. File photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Nearly half of American adults between age 50 and 64 fear they will develop dementia, a new analysis has revealed.

In study published Friday in the journal JAMA Neurology, University of Michigan researchers report that 48.5 percent of 1,019 respondents to the school's National Poll on Healthy Aging feel they were at least somewhat likely to be diagnosed with cognitive decline. Another 4.2 percent felt they were "very likely" to develop some form of dementia.

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"Memory loss is often a big concern for people as they age," study co-author Donovan Maust, director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Program at the University of Michigan, told UPI. "While there has been a lot of scientific focus on early diagnosis and early treatment of dementia, there are still no effective treatments. But, there is growing evidence that managing lifestyle and some chronic medical conditions can reduce risk."

The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging is a national survey of adults between 50 and 80 years of age. The project received financial support from AARP and Michigan Medicine and was completed in October 2018.

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Maust and his colleagues noted that non-Hispanic black respondents felt they were significantly less likely to develop dementia, while those who rated their physical or mental health as "fair or poor" believed they had a higher likelihood of developing dementia.

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Notably, only 5.2 percent of all respondents had discussed dementia prevention with their physicians, while 31 percent endorsed using fish oil and 39.2 percent reported using other vitamins or supplements.

"We were surprised by the amount of people who report taking supplements or other products in the belief that that helps protect their memory when there is really no evidence to support this," Maust said. "It is also potentially concerning that people's perception of their risk may not line up with their actual risk -- for example, those with poor physical health did not perceive their risk of developing dementia as higher, even though it most likely is compared to those in excellent health."

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The researcher said it's a good idea for adults at any age -- whether they worry about dementia or not -- to maintain activity in three general areas: intellectual, social and physical. He added that managing chronic medical conditions, and alerting doctors to any concerns, is also key to preserving cognition.

"For those who are concerned their memory has declined, it is important to get the correct diagnosis," Maust said. "It could be that people are dealing with an undiagnosed or untreated disorder such as depression or anxiety, which can impact the ability to think and concentrate in ways that might look like dementia."

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