Most Tasmanians aged over 50 experienced no serious effects on dementia risk factors, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol consumption, during the COVID-19 lockdown a Tasmanian study has found.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Tasmania’s Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre compared data from participants involved in the ISLAND Project, to assess changes experienced by project participants during the pandemic.

The findings are in stark contrast to what has been reported about the greater population during COVID-19 lockdowns, including negative effects on mental health and wellbeing.

“We had a unique opportunity to see whether the lockdown measures impacted on dementia risk factors in an Australian sample of adults aged over 50,” lead author Dr Larissa Bartlett said.

“Because of what was reported elsewhere, we expected to see that lockdown measures were negatively impacting on people’s mental health, diet and alcohol consumption.

“However, this wasn’t the case for our study participants.

“We found that anxiety levels and alcohol consumption decreased and there was no change in depression scores.

“There were also small but significant improvements in cognitive and physical activity, smoking, diet and BMI.

”The study compared data which is routinely collected as part of the ISLAND Project from October 2019 to April/June 2020."

The ISLAND Project (Island Study Linking Ageing and Neurodegenerative Disease) is open to Tasmanians aged over 50.

The project ultimately aims to reduce the incidence of dementia in Tasmania by helping participants to understand the risks associated with dementia and to take action to minimise their chance of developing the debilitating condition.

Dr Bartlett said the study illustrated how preventative public health campaigns, such as the ISLAND project, can assist vulnerable members of the community.

“The study suggests that engaging at-risk populations in proactive health promotion and education campaigns during lockdown scenarios could be a protective public health strategy,” Dr Bartlett said.

The research paper, Change is modifiable dementia risk factors during COVID-19 lockdown: The experience of over 50s in Tasmania, Australia, was published in Alzheimer's’ & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical interventions.