Has there been a generational change in brain health?

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By 2036, the total cost of dementia is predicted to increase by 81% to $25.8 billion in today’s dollars.[Source: Shutterstock]

A first-ever national study has been launched to investigate whether there has been a generational change in brain health, including an increase in the incidence of dementia, following major increases in the number of Australians aged 65 and over.

Researchers at UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) are looking for 1,500 Sydney-based volunteers aged 70 to 90 to participate in the study that will explore the possibilities of unidentified risk factors for dementia and the re-evaluation of previously established risk factors.

Volunteers are wanted from Sydney’s Wentworth and Kingsford Smith electorates who do not have dementia and were born between 1933 and 1953.

The new research is led by internationally renowned ageing expert Professor Henry Brodaty, Co-Director of CHeBA and a founding member of Alzheimer’s Disease International. 

He said the vision of this study is to challenge the status quo and question whether cognition is better than it was a generation prior and identify risk factors for, and protective factors against, cognitive decline.

“As a nation, we have reached a tipping point with a critical need to understand the risk factors associated with health issues in older Australians, specifically brain diseases,” he said.

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Professor Henry Brodaty. [Source: Supplied]

Prof Brodaty launched the study on Thursday alongside former NSW Premier and current HammondCare Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mike Baird.

Mr Baird said it’s good news that more Australians are living longer but demographic changes will see a growth in the number of people being diagnosed with dementia and produce a corresponding need to ensure they receive proper care such as investment in residential aged care and small household models.

“There will need to be more programs like Dementia Support Australia’s Staying at Home program to equip carers with the right skills and there will need to be available respite options to ensure those carers can get time to recharge.”

The study hopes to ascertain what changes have occurred in Sydney’s next generation of 70–90-year-olds across four health domains – physical, psychological, social and cognitive/brain health. This will be done by repeating comprehensive assessments of volunteers and of associated health services which will then be compared to findings with those from an earlier study commenced in 2005.

It will incorporate novel approaches including:

  • Recently developed blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease
  • Digital biomarkers
  • Computerised neuropsychological assessments and blood pressure measurements
  • Evaluation of new risk factors for dementia 
  • New tools for measuring resilience to better target preventative strategies

While there are new trial drugs that are offering hope of slowing down disease progression, there is no cure for dementia.

Participating volunteers will do an initial assessment that includes tests of cognition, and physical function including blood pressure, fasting blood tests and completion of several questionnaires. 

Volunteers will also be given the option to participate in add-on studies to have an MRI brain scan, and have their vision and hearing tested as well as their balance, risk of falls, and cardiac status. 

If you want to be one of the 1,500 volunteers needed, register here

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