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Preventing and/or delaying cognitive impairment is a public health priority. To increase awareness of and participation in behaviors that may help maintain cognitive function or reduce risk of impairment, we need to understand public perceptions about risk and protective factors.
We conducted a scoping review of studies examining the public's perceptions about risk and protective factors related to cognitive health and impairment published since the 2007 National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health.
A search of five databases yielded 1,115 documents published between June 2007 and December 2013. Initial review of abstracts identified 90 potentially eligible studies. After full-article review, 30 met inclusion criteria; four additional articles identified in reference lists also met inclusion criteria. Of the 34, 16 studies addressed Alzheimer's disease (AD) specifically, 15 dementia broadly, 5 mild to moderate cognitive impairment, and 8 normal functioning, with some content overlap. Across studies, respondents reported genetics (n = 14 studies), older age (n = 8), stress (n = 7), brain/head injury (n = 6), and mental illness/brain disease (n = 6) as perceived risk factors for AD and dementia. Protective factors most commonly identified for maintaining cognitive health were intellectual/mental stimulation (n = 13), physical activity (n = 12), healthy diet (n = 10), and social/leisure activities (n = 10).
Studies identified genetics and older age as key perceived risk factors more so than behaviors such as smoking. Individuals perceived that numerous lifestyle factors (e.g. intellectual stimulation, physical activity) could protect against cognitive impairment, AD, and/or dementia. Results can inform national and international education efforts about AD and other dementias.
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