The time to act is now: public health campaigns targeting dementia risk

Brain Bootcamp
Members of Brain Bootcamp

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ACTIONS FOR POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION

Dementia risk reduction programs often have had limited success, failing to fully achieve the outcomes initially set out, and have not been systematically mobilised to prevent dementia. For Australia to effectively capitalize on the potential of public health initiatives in dementia risk reduction, it will need the full engagement of government and key decision makers to concur and invest in a whole-of-nation strategy.

Australia’s first Brain Bootcamp program provides a critical and timely opportunity to kickstart this important national conversation.

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Dr Joyce Siette
Research Fellow and Founder of Brain Bootcamp, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

Ms Laura Dodds
Research Assistant, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

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RESEARCH CONTEXT

In 2012, the Australian Government declared dementia as the ninth National Health Priority Area. In 2017, the World Health Organization presented their dementia global action plan and risk reduction guidelines. In 2018, the United Kingdom introduced dementia risk as a part of the NHS Health Check programme, with GPs now able to discuss with patients how they can reduce their dementia risk. But where are Australia’s efforts? 

Dementia is now the greatest cause of disability in Australians aged over 65 years, the second leading cause of mortality, and the highest in women. 

There is increasing realisation that public health measures will play an important role in the drive to protect world populations from cognitive impairment and dementia. Public health campaigns are often effective in addressing risk factors for chronic health conditions, and may have contributed to declining dementia prevalence over the past decades in some high-income countries.

However, public health campaigns have not always been well chosen and operationalised to address dementia prevention. Awareness campaigns in Japan, the United Kingdom, and more recently in the Netherlands and Belgium have all sought to raise understanding of dementia through mass media but this is not enough.

Brain Bootcamp intends to put a plug in this critical gap by developing a program to guide national efforts that not only raises awareness but also incites healthy lifestyle behaviours to support brain health. 

Comprised of a multidisciplinary national and international team, Brain Bootcamp enables every older adult to make small and sustainable changes to achieve better brain health. In January 2021, our team distributed our evidence-based Brain Bootcamp Box containing physical items, educational resources and personalised brain health profiles to 1,000 seniors across NSW. 

Preliminary results highlight that 94% of participants agreed the program increased their knowledge of dementia risk factors and described it as “impressive”, “inspirational”, ‘innovative” and “informative”. Altering complex and entrenched lifestyle behaviours is known to be very difficult, however over 85% of our participants set a realistic goal to address a modifiable dementia risk factor (e.g., I will take 6,500 steps a day) and 66% successfully achieved their set goal.

Whilst Brain Bootcamp provides a well-engineered, foundational approach, future directions require concerted efforts and investment from policy-makers to systematically combine available evidence and interdisciplinary expertise to increase the availability and impact of dementia risk reduction interventions at a population level. Campaigns that educate and empower individuals early on to identify, and reduce their risk will mitigate the burden on health care systems and support individuals and their families who may otherwise be affected by dementia. 
 

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For more information visit: www.brainbootcamp.com.au