Knowledge Is Power: The Effectiveness of a Multidimensional Brain Health Program

Engagement in a variety of healthy behaviors is important for maintaining a healthy brain and warding off cognitive decline. A recent study investigated the effectiveness of a multidimensional brain health program to improve healthy behaviors.

Based on extensive research on risk factors contributing to developing dementia, researchers designed the B-Fit behavior change intervention incorporating eight dimensions: physical activity, sleep, diet, cardiovascular factors, social engagement, cognitive engagement, stress, and compensatory strategies.

A total of 65 participants, split into groups of about 10, completed weekly two-hour sessions of B-Fit for 10 weeks. The sessions consisted of both a brain health education component, and a behavior change component in which participants set realistic goals related to each dimension. Outcomes for this group were compared to an education-only control group (36 participants) and a control group of 26 waitlisted participants. Participants across groups were ages 42 to 85 and mostly non-Hispanic White. All groups completed pre- and post-intervention questionnaires regarding their engagement in healthy brain behaviors, health literacy, and brain health knowledge.

Following the intervention, the B-Fit group reported significantly more engagement in healthy brain behaviors, compared to pre-intervention engagement, while the waitlist control group showed no change. This indicated the intervention worked mostly as intended. However, healthy brain behaviors also improved for the education-only group, to about the same level as the B-Fit group, which was not expected. This could mean the educational topics were meaningful enough to participants that they influenced behavior change in both groups.

In fact, researchers also found that behavior change in the education-only group was due to an increase in participants’ health literacy and knowledge of healthy brain behaviors. Although the B-Fit group learned the same information, it was actually the goal-setting component that led to behavior change for this group, rather than enhanced knowledge.

Overall, this study showed that multidimensional brain health programs, whether primarily educational or combined with goal setting, can help older adults initiate behavior change intended to ward off cognitive decline. Perhaps in the longer term, goal setting would help participants maintain healthy behaviors longer than solely education, but future research is needed.

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Boyd, B., McAlister, C., Arrotta, K., & Schmitter-Edgecombe, M. (2022). Self-reported behavior change and predictors of engagement with a multidomain brain health intervention for midlife and older adults: A pilot clinical trial. Journal of Aging and Health, 34(1), 109-119.

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