Apr 12, 2023

Light to shine on why dementia is more prominent in rural and remote areas

New research projects have been granted funding to look into the high prevalence of dementia in rural and remote areas and the link between intermittent fasting and a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

People living in rural and regional areas are three to five times more likely to develop dementia than those who live in the city and researchers want to find out what can be done to reverse this trend.

Doctor Ashleigh Smith from the University of South Australia (UniSA) said this funding would allow her team to create dementia prevention strategies specifically tailored to these more isolated communities.

“We know there are 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia including smoking, diet, exercise and social isolation and we have collected good data on how these risk factors impact people living in Australian cities… This Fellowship will enable us to go to regional and rural areas to collect data around these risk factors,” Dr Smith said.

Later parts of the UniSA project will utilise their rural campuses in Mount Gambier, Whyalla and Port Lincoln in South Australia to design targeted, culturally and geographically appropriate and sustainable dementia prevention strategies and co-design a bespoke dementia prevention toolkit for use in rural communities.

“People living in rural and regional communities don’t want city-based solutions,” Dr Smith explained.

“By co-designing the toolkit with people living in rural and regional communities, we will ensure the toolkit is acceptable and aimed at extending healthy life and delaying dementia onset in Australians who live outside major cities.”

On the East Coast, Doctor Alby Elias from The University of Melbourne will use the grant money to lead a study examining whether intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, involves not eating any food for periods of between 12 and 24 hours between meals. It has been shown to have several health benefits, including improved blood vessel health and reduced inflammation.

“So far no human studies have been conducted looking at fasting and Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr Elias said.

“Animal studies have demonstrated that intermittent fasting was associated with removal of the beta-amyloid protein from the brain, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr Elias said the first step was to work with clinicians and people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease to design a trial that was safe and achievable for participants.

$2.4 million of grant funding will be distributed among the 18 projects who were successful in the foundation’s 2022 Grants Program. The full list of grant recipients is available here.

The Dementia Australia Research Foundation is the research arm of Dementia Australia, which provides funding to support new and emerging dementia researchers. 

For information, visit the Dementia Australia website.

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