With estimates predicting over one million Australians will be diagnosed with dementia over the next 40 years, a new research project called Brain Bootcamp has been launched to boost dementia awareness of risk and protective factors related to this devastating disease.

Supported by Macquarie University and funded by NSW Health, the project aims to send 1,000 Brain Bootcamp boxes to residents aged 65 or older throughout NSW which contain tips and tools to help participants lead healthier, more active lives and strengthen their brain power.

Dr Joyce Siette, founder of the project and research fellow at Macquarie University, said that currently there were around 459,000 Australians living with dementia1 — a number which could increase to over 1 million in around 40 years without any medical breakthroughs2.

“There are 3.8 million Australians right now aged 65 plus3 in which we can do something to change their awareness and prompt better brain health and better brain lifestyle. So prevention research needs to happen now,” Dr Siette told Lab Down Under.

One in five Aussies unaware of dementia risk factors

After filling in an online survey, participants will be sent a free Brain Bootcamp box filled with evidence-backed activities as well as an educational booklet on dementia risk factors and a tailored brain health profile.

“The aim of the box is to increase awareness of the dementia risk factors which most people aren’t aware of. About one in five older Australians do not know what the risk factors are or just don’t believe that dementia is something that you can change,” Dr Siette said.

While Dr Siette couldn’t reveal what was in the box — saying it was a surprise for participants — she said the items within targeted four risk factors in the 65 plus age group.

“Research shows that if you can modify your behaviours so that you are more physically active, socially connected, eating well, and cognitively stimulated, we can reduce your risk later. And these items in there complement those risk factors.”

In all, science has shown there are 12 modifiable risk factors in all which contribute to about 40 per cent of dementia risk worldwide and around 50 per cent in Australia. The survey given at the beginning of the process will look at these factors and create a tailored profile highlighting areas where each individual is doing well and areas where they need improvement.

Lab Down Under’s video interview with Dr Siette’s research on Brain Bootcamp

Boosting dementia awareness and brain health

One of Brain Bootcamp’s aims is to gather data to use in further research down the track. After three months of using the tools and techniques within the box, participants will fill out a further survey to provide feedback on any effects they have experienced.

“The initiative has two main aims. So the first is to find out whether or not it was effective, that is did it actually increase people’s awareness of what these multiple risk and protective factors are? Did it reduce their brain health risk?” Dr Siette said.

“Our second aim is to really understand participants’ views of dementia prevention, ideas and initiations like this. So we want to explore how acceptable they are and how much can they actually integrate this campaign into their daily lives.”

Typically people will see effects within one year for different kinds of intervention, Dr Siette, but since the Brain Bootcamp combines multiple different strategies, the assessment will be held at three months. Further funding is being sought to conduct a longer-term follow-up for the project.

Brain Bootcamp ‘major step’ to raising awareness

Effective dementia awareness research like Brain Bootcamp needed to target three main aspects, Dr Siette told Lab Down Under.

These aspects include recognising that dementia is a chronic disease, acknowledging there is also a need for Australia to adopt a population health approach, and incorporating this idea of dementia prevention into health programs and planning.

“Brain Bootcamp will be one of the major steps forward to raising awareness for older Australians across Australia,” she said.

Anything which could stave off the effects of dementia for a few years in older Australians was important, Dr Siette added.

“It’s still going to substantially improve quality of life and wellbeing down the track. Prevention is key.”

Brain Bootcamp’s introductory video on the project

Further information about the project itself can be found on the Brain Bootcamp website where participants can register to receive a box or individuals can find out more about the various dementia risk factors. Details about Dr Siette’s other research can be accessed through her Twitter profile and Macquarie University webpage.

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1 Dementia Snapshot, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, June 2020

2 Dementia Statistics, Dementia Australia, January 2021

3 Older Australia at a Glance, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, September 2018

Featured image: Sick women near the window. Picture by Luanna Strawbridge. Used under the CC0 Public Domain licence.

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