HSE dementia awareness campaign marks International Brain Awareness Week

Former physiotherapist Maureen O'Hara who featured in a Dementia Understand Together TV advertisement campaign

A campaign by the HSE is urging people across the country to take steps to protect their brain health and reduce their risk of dementia.

The Dementia: Understand Together campaign was launched to mark International Brain Awareness Week, which takes place this week from 14 to 20 March.

Prof Suzanne Timmons, Consultant Geriatrician, explained that people can take certain steps to minimise their risk of dementia.

“In taking steps like adopting a healthy lifestyle by having a balanced diet, not smoking and undertaking regular physical activity, we can all reduce our risk of dementia, not to mention many other diseases,” said Professor Timmoms.

“We want people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in particular to know that taking action now can reduce their risk in the future.

“We also want people to know that social interaction with others can make a difference to their brain health and this message couldn’t be more relevant now as we all start to enjoy meeting friends and family again post Covid restrictions.”

Lancet study in 2020 identified 12 modifiable risk factors that could account for 40% of dementia worldwide and the HSE has highlighted a number of these factors, creating awareness of the link with dementia and how people in their midlife can reduce their risk.

According to a nationally representative Behaviour & Attitudes survey undertaken by the Dementia: Understand Together campaign in 2021, many people continue to be unaware of risk factors for dementia.

The survey found just 44% of people agreed that not doing physical exercise increases your risk and only 48% agreed that if you eat a healthy diet you are less likely to experience dementia.

Steps to Brain Health

Step 1. Be a good sport

Physical activity is very important for brain health. Go for a brisk walk for 30 minutes, five days a week; activities that get the body moving (aerobic) like walking, gardening or housework all count when it comes to boosting brain health.

Step 2. Eat well

Eating a wide variety of nourishing foods provides the energy and nutrients you need to keep your brain healthy. A balanced diet, like the Mediterranean diet, that is rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, and fish, and that is low in salt and sugar, is a good starting point.

Step 3. No Pressure!
Healthy adults above 40 years of age should have their blood pressure (BP) checked annually to see if it is within the healthy range – aiming for a systolic BP of 130 mmHg or less from around 40 years of age. There are many ways to decrease blood pressure such as through exercise, losing weight, reducing salt intake, limiting alcohol and, of course, by taking medication if prescribed.

Step 4. Quit While You’re Ahead!
Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of developing dementia as well as your risk of developing cancers and heart disease. Stop smoking for 28 days and you’re five times more likely to stop for good. Why not sign up for a free, personalised quit plan, including face-to-face support? Visit www.quit.ie, text Quit to 50100, or call the QUIT line on 1800 201 203.

Step 5. Stay Social

Keeping socially engaged helps you to stay mentally sharp. Even just ten minutes of social

interaction can greatly increase your brain performance, so just calling a friend or family member for a quick chat can improve your brain health. Even better, have a walk and a chat together.

The HSE hsa said that anyone who is worried about dementia can speak to a dementia adviser at The Alzheimer Society of Ireland on Freephone 1800 341 341 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm).

For more information on dementia and services in your county, visit www.understandtogether.ie.