Planning and optimising a digital intervention to protect older adults' cognitive health

Rosie Essery, Sebastien Pollet, Kirsten A. Smith, Fiona Mowbray, Joanna Slodkowska-Barabasz, James Denison-Day, Victoria Hayter, Katherine Bradbury, Elisabeth Grey, Max J Western, Alexander Milton, Cheryl Hunter, Anne Ferrey, Andre Matthias Muller, Beth Stuart, Nanette Mutrie, Simon Griffin, Tony Kendrick, Helen Brooker, Bernard GudginRosemary Philips, Tom Stokes, John Niven, Paul Little, Lucy Yardley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


By 2050, worldwide dementia prevalence is expected to triple. Affordable, scalable interventions are required to support protective behaviours such as physical activity, cognitive training and healthy eating. This paper outlines the theory-, evidence- and person-based development of ‘Active Brains’: a multi-domain digital behaviour change intervention to reduce cognitive decline amongst older adults.

During the initial planning phase, scoping reviews, consultation with PPI contributors and expert co-investigators and behavioural analysis collated and recorded evidence that was triangulated to inform provisional ‘guiding principles’ and an intervention logic model. The following optimisation phase involved qualitative think aloud and semi-structured interviews with 52 older adults with higher and lower cognitive performance scores. Data were analysed thematically and informed changes and additions to guiding principles, the behavioural analysis and the logic model which, in turn, informed changes to intervention content.

Scoping reviews and qualitative interviews suggested that the same intervention content may be suitable for individuals with higher and lower cognitive performance. Qualitative findings revealed that maintaining independence and enjoyment motivated engagement in intervention-targeted behaviours, whereas managing ill health was a potential barrier. Social support for engaging in such activities could provide motivation, but was not desirable for all. These findings informed development of intervention content and functionality that appeared highly acceptable amongst a sample of target users.

A digitally delivered intervention with minimal support appears acceptable and potentially engaging to older adults with higher and lower levels of cognitive performance. As well as informing our own intervention development, insights obtained through this process may be useful for others working with, and developing interventions for, older adults and/or those with cognitive impairment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number158 (2021)
Number of pages16
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2021

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health


  • cognitive-health
  • behaviour-change
  • physical activity
  • dementia
  • prevention
  • digital-intervention


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