A new report estimates that 50 per cent of dementia cases can be traced to modifiable lifestyle factors.
The Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), in collaboration with Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) has released new findings on cognitive ageing and decline trends in Australia.
The report highlights seven key modifiable lifestyle factors that are attributed to dementia; the rising numbers of people with dementia; and the increasing cost to families, carers, and the economy.
Dementia is the leading cause of disability among Australians over 65 and the second leading cause of death in Australia.
Lead researcher Professor Kaarin Anstey said the seven modifiable lifestyle factors are midlife hypertension, diabetes, low educational attainment, smoking, physical inactivity, mid-life obesity, and depression.
The report also found that knowledge 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 per cent of the sample population,” Prof Anstey said.
“This highlights the need for increased local community engagement and advocacy.”
The report also shed light on an under-researched area of cognitive ageing, financial frailty.
CEPAR’s Professor John Piggott explained 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.
It wasn’t all bad new on the financial front, though. According to CEPAR Chief Investigator Hazel Bateman, Australian retirees are much better informed than their international equivalents.
“Australians nearing retirement score higher in tests of financial literacy than younger people or those in other countries, but about half of them answer basic questions about inflation, interest rates, and diversification incorrectly,” explains Prof Bateman.
Research insights point to some solutions, which policy makers are investigating.
“As the population ages and more people face cognitive limitations, we need to consider whether the choice architecture of superannuation can cope,” she said.
Better regulation of information provision, financial literacy initiatives that take account of how older people learn, and protections against poor financial advice to vulnerable consumers are needed.
“Mitigating confusion and poor decision-making among this age group is something that has yet to be reconciled in the literature and in policy,” Prof Bateman said.
Read the CEPAR report.
What do you think? Are you worried about making poor financial decisions as your brain ages? What can be done to stop this from happening?