The second Alzheimer’s Association Academy meeting of the year was held on the 22nd of February. The meeting is part of a series of capacity-building workshops that bring together representatives of national Alzheimer’s associations with members of the European Working Group of People with Dementia and European Dementia Carers Working Group, to learn about the latest advances in dementia research, policy, care and treatment from experts in those fields.

The Lethe project was presented by Jeroen Bruinsma, Assistant Professor at the University of Maastricht. He discussed the work being carried out with regards to

lifestyle-related behaviour changes for dementia risk reduction. Jeroen also described the project’s research on preventive interventions of diet, exercise, cognitive training, monitoring vascular risks through sleep, social activity, relaxation, limiting or avoiding alcohol and cigarettes with a digital twin app based on the FINGER protocol. This app can be used on a smartphone and Fitbit watch, and it provides recommendations based on the FINGER protocol. Adherence is being monitored, following up with motivational messages and the data gleaned so far shows that dementia risk is considered abstract, leading to ambivalence towards changing behaviours. It also showed “all-or-nothing” thinking about lifestyle change, with people feeling that change had to be radical, resulting in a lack of tangible goal setting. Negative self-image and behavioural control, particularly where previous attempts had failed, reduced the willingness to make further attempts at lifestyle change. Jeroen acknowledged that lifestyle change for dementia risk reduction is complex, requiring more communication of risks, raising awareness and knowledge and the need to support participants. Personal contact and support are key to engagement, he stressed.

Other speakers in the workshop included Sebastian Köhler, professor of Neuroepidemiology at the University of Maastricht who discussed the links between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia both in diagnosis and as a modifiable risk factor. Dr Neus Falgàs from the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona then spoke about sleep disturbances in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the ADIS project. Nicola Veronese, Gerontologist and professor at University of Palermo, Italy then gave a talk on physical activity for the prevention and management of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia.

Finally, there was a panel discussion in which the speakers agreed that it is necessary to look at both individual interventions as well as public health initiatives, with the goal of making policy and environmental changes that will benefit people and encourage healthier living. They also acknowledged the fact that making changes at a national level is slow and often complicated to achieve. On an individual level, people should be encouraged to do what they find fun and feel that they can achieve. The speakers reiterated the need to present people with all the options for lifestyle modification, giving as much choice and autonomy as possible to help people decrease their risk or slow progression.

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