The COVID-19 pandemic and related measures are impacting the lifestyle and mental health of people around the world. A healthy lifestyle is important for brain health. Conversely, an unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk of cognitive decline. Lisa Waterink and her colleagues conducted a study during the corona period into changes in specific aspects of lifestyle that related with brain health. For example, food, exercise, sleep, smoking, drinking alcohol, loneliness, stress and memory complaints.
Through the online platform Hersenonderzoek.nl, almost 4,000 participants, without a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment of dementia, have completed the online questionnaire about behavioral changes during the corona period. Hersenonderzoek.nl is a register for volunteers who are interested in research into various brain diseases. Hersenonderzoek.nl enabled the researchers to reach many participants in a short period of time. The online questionnaire consisted of two parts, the WW-FINGERS network questionnaire on health and lifestyle changes and the POLAR questionnaire on psychosocial change.
Lifestyle significantly influenced
The results of this study show that the COVID-19 pandemic and the related measures had a significant impact on lifestyle. Adults report both better and worse lifestyles. Specific people seemed to be more vulnerable to lifestyle changes that are unfavorable to their brain health. These are, for example, people who live alone, live in an urban area, have a lower income and have previously reported memory complaints. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures appear to increase health inequalities regarding brain health among the Dutch.
Opportunity for improvement
The main conclusion of the researchers is that they see an opportunity for lifestyle intervention to protect brain health. In addition, it is important to create awareness about the relationship between a healthy lifestyle and brain health. The FINGER-NL study is currently investigating the effect of lifestyle changes on brain health. This study will continue to investigate the effects of the COVID-19 measures on patients with cognitive disorders and their loved ones.
The WW-FINGERS network is a collaboration of research centers around the world. Therefore, the questionnaire was also administered in other countries. The FINGER-NL project is part of MOCIA ('Maintaining Optimal Cognitive Function In Aging'). The MOCIA research program aims to determine an increased risk of cognitive decline and to reduce this risk by developing a tailor-made lifestyle intervention.
Read the publication in Frontiers in Psychiatry: Changes in Brain-Health Related Modifiable Risk Factors in Older Adults After One Year of COVID-19-Restrictions