How to prevent Alzheimer’s and related dementias

The number of Australians aged over 85 is predicated to almost double by 2050, with the concomintant increases in the incidence of dementia and other infirmities of old age, including depression, expected to place unprecedented burdens on the healthcare system and the reserves of community-based care.

While there are no known cures for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and related dementias, a large body of research demonstrates that there are some modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and depression in later life. Targeting these risk factors may help to prevent or slow cognitive decline leading to Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

Led by Associate Professor Sharon Naismith, the Healthy Brain Ageing Clinic investigates and provides early intervention for cognitive decline by targeting risk factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diet, brain inactivity and changes in mood and sleep.

Previous research by the team has established the link between these risk factors and changes in the brain. Attention has now turned to establishing whether early intervention programs can be effective in reducing cognitive decline, depression and the underlying brain changes associated with dementia.

This work - often done in collaboration with other Brain and Mind Research Institute programs such as the Chronobiology & Sleep Program - has ranged from cognitive training for older ‘at risk’ people, group-based education programs to improve sleep disturbance, large-scale prevention trials for depression, and the use of the internet to address depression.

Other novel projects evaluate the effects of napping on memory consolidation in older adults at risk of dementia, and in 2013, A/Prof Naismith in conjunction with A/Prof Michael Valenzuela, will evaluate whether the dietary supplement Creatine, can enhance the efficacy of cognitive training.

A/Prof Sharon Naismith conducting brain training