01 July 2024

Older man walking with his son and grandson in an autumn parkWhether it’s more sleep or more exercise, simple lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of dementia. Now, a new program from the University of South Australia in collaboration with research partners at Onkaparinga Council and ACH group is helping older Australians make healthier choices to reduce their risk of dementia.

Running over 12 weeks, UniSA’s ‘Small Steps’ program will support people aged 65 years and over to make small, incremental changes to their lifestyle choices to improve sleep, reduce sitting time and increase physical activity.

UniSA researcher Dr Catherine Yandell says the program hopes to provide participants with genuine insights into their sleep and movement as it relates to dementia risk.

“Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle is essential to reduce the risk of dementia later in life, yet few older adults meet current activity guidelines, and even fewer continue them in the long term,” Dr Yandell says.

“Part of the problem is that many programs are not individualised to support people to integrate new healthy behaviours into their daily lives.

“In our research, we found that people need access to evidence-based information and individualised support to help them make healthier choices about dementia risk factors.

“That’s why we’ve worked with older adults to co-create ‘Small Steps’. This program is all about providing the support and motivation that older adults need to increase their activity, improve their sleep quality, and boost their lifestyles.

“Using a Fitbit, participants will automatically track their physical activity, sleep habits, sleep quality, and personal motivation. We will also assess their memory and thinking skills both before and after the program.

“They will then work with our team to develop individualised programs that encourage them to sit less, move more and sleep better.”

For older adults, the Australian Government recommends seven to eight hours of sleep, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (at least five times a week) and breaking up sitting time by getting up and moving regularly.

Project lead and healthy ageing expert, UniSA’s Associate Professor Ashleigh Smith, says the ‘Small Steps’ program will help participants assess and visualise the benefits of swapping one behaviour for another – for example, swapping out TV time for walking their dog.

“The Small Steps program aims to support behaviour change by allowing participants to adjust the activities they want to change while keeping those that they cannot, or prefer not, to change,” Assoc Prof Smith says.

“Encouraging and supporting older adults to improve their lifestyles is our first goal. But beyond this we’re hoping to see whether this may support improved thinking and memory skills.”

The UniSA research team is now looking to enrol people 65+ years old in the Onkaparinga, Marion, and Yankalilla Council areas.

To find out more please visit: https://redcap.link/SmallSteps or www.unisa.edu.au/research/research-volunteers/small-steps-towards-decreasing-the-risk-of-dementia


Media contacts: Annabel Mansfield E: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au M: +61 479 182 489

Jack Trehearne E: jack.trehearne@unisa.edu.au

Researcher contact: Dr Catherine Yandell E: Catherine.Yandell@unisa.edu.au

Assoc Prof Ashleigh Smith E: Ashleigh.Smith@unisa.edu.au

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