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National Risk Factor Surveillance Findings

Taking action to increase social interaction, manage stress levels, and follow a better sleep routine are three important ways to improve the brain health of the nation, a survey has shown.

Our first Risk Factor Surveillance Survey found that many factors that can impact brain health are common amongst the Scottish population in mid-life.

The study, conducted in partnership with Ipsos Mori, involved a representative sample of nearly 1000 30-59 year olds from across Scotland, and included questions on a range of factors known to impact brain health, such as sleep, exercise and sociability.

The findings highlight the importance of taking action in three key areas central to maintaining good brain health:

  • Sleep –half (54%) of people in Scotland report not getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night.

  • Stress – over a third (38%) of people reported experiencing high levels of stress.

  • Social Isolation –a third (32%) of people reported their opportunities for social engagement are limited.

As we sleep, our brains clean themselves, flushing out waste products that accumulate each day. Disrupted sleep can interfere with this process, causing a build-up of harmful proteins.

A little stress can be good but when levels get too high, the hormones released can be toxic to our brain cells and increase the likelihood of problems linked to memory and thinking.

Being sociable stimulates our brains, making stress or depression less likely – building reserve capacity that cuts the risk of memory defects, processing difficulties and dementia.

Several established risk factors known to be significant for cardiovascular health were identified as common across the mid-life population, including obesity and exposure to air pollution. This reinforces the importance of managing these factors not only for the health of the heart but also for maintaining brain health.

The survey also provided valuable information on the rates of individual factors amongst different demographic groups. For example, highlighting areas of risk that may be more commonly experienced by women compared to men. This data can help shape interventions to be more effective for particular groups.

Prioritising education, awareness, and support for these key areas could help the Scottish population improve brain health in mid-life and, crucially, help reduce the numbers of people in Scotland who develop dementia.

Table shows the five most common risk factors identified through the Brain Health Risk Factor Surveillance Survey 2022.
Read a summary of the full survey findings
Brain Health Scotland Risk Factor Surveillance Report 2022
Download PDF • 743KB

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