New quiz could help Iowans with preventing dementia

State public health department develops preventive steps for dementia, Alzheimer's

(Screenshot from the Save Your Brain web page)
(Screenshot from the Save Your Brain web page)

As the total of older Iowans continues to swell, Alzheimer’s-related deaths are expected to become more prominent throughout the state said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Right now, there’s basically no treatment for Alzheimer’s, there is no drugs you can take, there is no cure,” Quinlisk said. “There’s a few things you can do to slow it down, but there’s nothing that will stop it.”

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, with the majority of those diagnosed at age 65 and older, according to nationwide experts.

In Iowa as of 2015, there were more than 490,000 individuals aged 65 and older — accounting for about 16 percent of the total population — according to the Iowa State Data Center’s most recent report. Within that age group, the Alzheimer’s Association found that Iowa had about 63,000 people living with the disease.

In addition, the number of those living with Alzheimer’s is estimated to reach 73,000 seniors by 2025.

What that leaves us with is prevention, Quinlisk said.

In response, the Iowa Department of Public Health has developed Save Your Brain, an online quiz that aims to prevent cognitively healthy seniors from developing cognitive disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The website was launched last week.

The Save Your Brain quiz can be found at www.idph.iowa.gov/save-you-brain.

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The quiz, which was developed using the latest research, identifies lifestyle choices that help prevent cognitive decline. Quinlisk said the research was done on those aged 60 and older who have not developed dementia.

The quiz also does not take genetic predispositions for developing these disorders into account.

“The science is out there and it’s strong,” Quinlisk said. “So we thought we were going to share this with people and tell people they can reduce their risk.”

The Save Your Brain quiz focuses on four factors that can help people remain “brain healthy,” Quinlisk said — eating well, remaining active, keeping your brain sharp and being social. (See sidebar for more recommendations.)

Quinlisk said officials with the public health department believe these factors can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline up to 70 percent.

“Those are the things right now will really make a big difference, she said. “And these are things within our control.”

The quiz will score participants on how well they do in these four areas of their life, and offer recommendations for those areas in which they do not do as well.

These recommendations also are ideal in helping older Iowans remain physically healthy and reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, Quinlisk said.

Dementia not only affects those diagnosed with the disorder, but their families as well. While long-term care facilities and support for family caregivers are available throughout the state, Quinlisk said she’d “rather prevent anyone from needing that in the first place.”

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As not everyone has access to the internet, the Iowa Department of Public Health is encouraging organizations or professionals who work with seniors to print off the quiz, the score sheet and the related material to use as handouts.

Here are the four recommendations from the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Save Your Brain quiz that helps seniors prevent cognitive decline, which can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Eat Well

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, recommends older Iowans stick to a Mediterranean diet or a DASH diet as a preventive measure for cognitive decline.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet emphasizes primarily eating plant-based foods, fish and poultry and limiting red meat, butter and salt.

The DASH diet, which is promoted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to lower blood pressure, requires following daily nutritional goals that follow the seven basic food groups.

Save Your Brain also recommends certain foods that are good for the brain, such as blueberries.

Get Moving

The key is to get your heart rate up, Quinlisk said.

Similar in keeping healthy in other areas, public health officials say older Iowans should stay active for at least 30 minutes three or more times a week and participate in balance and strength building exercises.

Stay Sharp

Simply put, “you need to use your brain,” Quinlisk said.

Research has found that learning a new, difficult skill — such as learning a language or how to play an instrument — or learning something that you then have to discuss — a book discussion or a test in a college course, for example — can decrease cognitive decline up to 62 percent.

Be Social

Older Iowans also must meet their social needs to help remain cognitively healthy, Quinlisk said. Seniors need a group of people they can interact with on a regular basis, such as a book club or in a volunteer setting, as well as a person they can talk to in difficult situations.

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The Save Your Brain quiz can be found at www.idph.iowa.gov/save-you-brain.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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