A majority of people living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and in wake of the startling stat, some Canadians are hoping to help mitigate their chances with an app that helps promote healthy brain habits.
Kathy Kelaidis, a busy working mom to two young boys living in Mississauga, Ont., recently downloaded a Canadian app called BrainFit, a tool designed to help women and men ward off brain-aging diseases.
Kelaidis, 46, said she was “shocked” by the statistic stating more women are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“I have always thought about healthy living, eating well and exercising, but when I heard that stat, I thought, I really need to look into this a bit more and figure out what can I do to protect my brain health,” she explained.
Since downloading the app a few months ago, she’s been using it every day and has noticed a huge difference in her mental health.
BrainFit launched in December 2022 and was created by Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI), a Canadian charity powered by dozens of science, business, caregiving, and public engagement experts, aiming to educate the public on women’s brain health and provide funding in the field.
Lynn Posluns, president and CEO of WBHI said that even though women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s, the research on the disease is historically focused on men.
“So we wanted to level that research playing field,” Posluns said.
The goal of this app is to promote brain health by practicing daily and weekly habits like drinking eight glasses of water a day, learning a new language or even going bowling, which can help mitigate your risk of dementia, explained Posluns.
Risk factors that appear for dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, include high blood pressure, obesity and lack of exercise, depression and low levels of cognitive engagement, according to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.
Although it’s still unclear why women are more at risk of the disease, the Alzheimer’s Society said some reasons could be the changing estrogen level in a woman’s lifetime and the fact women tend to live longer than men on average.
“Most people with late onset of Alzheimer’s disease, they tend to show symptoms in their seventies and eighties, sometimes their nineties,” Posluns said.
“But what the science is now showing is that by the time symptoms occur, it’s likely that the damage has happened 20 to 25 years prior. So, it really means that diseases like Alzheimer’s are midlife diseases with symptoms that show up in old age.”
How the app works
BrainFit, which can be downloaded for free on Andriod or iOS, focuses on creating healthy habits using the six pillars of brain health, which are nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, social activities, sleep and stress management.
“And if you establish healthy habits in all six, you have a better chance of delaying and possibly preventing dementia because almost 40 per cent of all cases of dementia can be avoided through lifestyle,” Posluns said.
Once downloaded, the app asks the user to rate themselves on a scale between one and five for habits like sleep, exercise, stress and nutrition. Based on the answers, it then suggests habits based on the six brain health pillars, but a user can also create their own goals.
The habits can be as simple as drinking eight glasses of water, reducing sodium intake and limiting screen time before bed. Other suggestions are more ambitious like taking tango lessons, learning a new instrument and starting volunteer work.
“The earlier you start engaging in these lifestyle choices, the more protected you will be (from brain-ageing diseases),” Posluns said.
Since the app launched, there have been over 10,000 downloads, with 90 per cent of the users living in Canada and 10 per cent in the United States.
'Kept me on track'
Kelaidis explained that although she is only 46 years old, her goal in using the app is to “be a healthy mom” for her kids.
She said BrainFit helps her accomplish her daily health goals of stress management and nutrition with the notifications setting option.
“I always thought that I was fairly good at drinking a lot of water. But after starting to use this app, the first thing that I realized was that I wasn’t hitting the glasses that day that I thought I was. So that was an eye-opener for me,” Kelaidis said.
By setting reminders, she said the app has “kept her on track” to reach the daily water goal.
“When you have a busy day, you can easily forget to drink your water or have that fruit and vegetable when you’re eating a quick meal,” she added.
“So it was a great tool to remind you to do it.”