19 July 2019

Researchers at the University of South Australia have won more than $1.2 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to uncover the aspects of diet and activity that make up a kind of “best practice day” for people who want to reduce their risk of dementia. 

Lead researcher for the project Dr Ashleigh Smith, says while there is a plethora of research looking at how individual lifestyle factors can mitigate the chances of getting dementia, knowing how factors work together to optimise dementia prevention is increasingly important. 

The research project being undertaken with local and international colleagues, will focus on diet and activity and will examine longitudinal data from a cohort of 450 people aged between 60 to 70 years over three years. 

“We are starting with two basic variables – diet and activity – and in adjusting those, we hope to learn more about which factors and combinations of factors will support the best outcomes for cognition,” UniSA’s lead researcher Dr Smith says. 

“The ultimate goal of the study is to develop an evidence-based tool that people can use to target improvements in diet and activity, designed to underpin better brain health.” 

Dr Smith says we suspect how people use their time can be very important in maintaining a healthy brain throughout life and keeping dementia at bay. 

“There are just 24 hours in a day, but how you carve up that time can either increase or decrease your future dementia risk,” she says. 

“We are aiming to develop an easy to use app that will help people adjust their activities – give them the opportunity to choose to sleep a little longer, walk a little more often, spend less time on passive activities, or switch out less nutritious foods for options from a healthy Mediterranean diet.” 

She hopes the research will help to mitigate the burgeoning dementia rates that the United Nations Population Division predicts will double by 2050, to 2.1 billion people over 60 years. 

“Interventions to stem the tide of dementia globally need to be affordable, practical and above all evidence-based and the goal of this work is to contribute directly to the knowledge we have about the impact of combinations of behaviours that may help to improve brain function and delay age-related cognitive decline,” Dr Smith says.

The research will be undertaken across four universities UniSA, Newcastle, Flinders and Adelaide and includes specific and unique experts in the use of time epidemiology, cognitive assessment, diet, cerebrovascular assessment, neuroimaging and non-invasive brain stimulation from Australia and the University of Illinois-Urban Champaign. 

UniSA media contact: Michèle Nardelli phone: +61 418 823 673 or +61 882960854 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au



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