Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) are among the most feared age-related conditions. While some level of fear can motivate healthy lifestyle behaviors, intense fears can have the opposite effect, leading to avoidance behaviors such as withdrawal from cognitively or socially demanding activities. In this way, fears and avoidance behaviors have potential to influence modifiable ADRD risk. My project examines the relationship of ADRD-specific fears and avoidance behaviors with lifestyle risk factors. Specifically, I will test if higher levels of fear and avoidance are uniquely associated with cognitive, psychological and lifestyle factors in mid-life.
My project is a cross-sectional research study involving middle-aged participants (i.e., 40+ years) with and without a family history of ADRD. Participants will be recruited from the ongoing, multi-site PREVENT Dementia research study through the Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), University of Edinburgh (Scotland), University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and Imperial College London (England). Participation will involve completing an online questionnaire battery, including measures of ADRD-specific fear and avoidance, self-rated cognition, mood, personality, lifestyle activities, social isolation, and loneliness. These data will be combined with secondary data from the PREVENT study, including medical history and performance-based cognition. I will use linear regression to test the unique contribution of fear and avoidance to cognitive, psychological and lifestyle factors. Models will be adjusted for potential confounders, including demographics (i.e., age, sex, years of education), general anxiety and personality. I will also explore how the relationship between fear, avoidance and risk factors varies according to sub-groups; for example, based on family history of ADRD and history of traumatic brain injury.
My project has potential to inform our understanding of the factors that can influence modifiable risk in mid-life. These insights are crucial to providing better risk reduction, prevention, and support options for people as early as possible. Critically, fears and avoidance behaviors are changeable (e.g., through standard interventions like psychotherapy). Thus, by understanding how they influence risk behaviors – and who might be most vulnerable – we can design interventions to reduce fear and avoidance, foster healthy lifestyle behaviors and potentially decrease future incidence of dementia. Furthermore, encouraging more open dialogue around fears will help to reduce stigma around ADRD and promote quality of life and dignity for people currently living with a diagnosis and their loved ones. Promoting broader awareness of brain health and modifiable risk factors can also help to reduce fear among the general population, thus empowering people to seek information and support when needed, leading to earlier diagnosis and care.
- Fear of dementia (Dementia Connections Magazine, May 2022)
- Fear of memory loss impacts well-being and quality of life (Trinity College Dublin News, February 2021)
- Fear of dementia: how it affects our wellbeing and what we can do about it (World Young Leaders in Dementia, May 2020)
(Additional publications are included below.)