The number of Australians with dementia is predicted to grow to over one million people in the next 40 years. (iStock).

The number of Australians with dementia is predicted to grow to over one million people in the next 40 years. (iStock).

Latest news: 21 September 2015.

A $6.5 million world-first trial into modifiable risk factors for dementia is planning to use data from participants in the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study to investigate whether an internet coaching tool can reduce the risk of the condition.

University of New South Wales Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty, Co-Director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, is the lead investigator on the “Maintain Your Brain” trial which was announced as the recipient of the five-year $6.5 million NHMRC grant in August.

The study team comprises 20 specialists from institutions around Australia, including Sax institute CEO Professor Sally Redman.

Professor Brodaty said the trial would be the largest in the world to address modifiable risk factors for dementia in general and Alzheimer’s disease in particular, including physical inactivity, cognitive inactivity, depression, overweight and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking.

The 45 and Up Study

It is planned that participants from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Studywill be invited to join the trial. The 45 and Up Study is an ongoing study into healthy ageing which includes more than a quarter of a million participants from across NSW and has proved a rich resource for researchers since its launch 11 years ago.

A total of 18,000 people aged 55-75 years who have at least one risk factor for dementia and access to the internet will be invited to take part in the dementia study. Professor Brodaty said the 45 and Up Study was a valuable resource, and had already revealed that well over 50% of participants had at least one dementia risk factor.

Half the trial participants will be given information on managing dementia risk factors, while the rest will be given support through online tools focusing on elements including diet, exercise, cognitive training and online therapy for depression.

“This is the first intervention to be delivered almost completely online,“ Professor Brodaty said. “We will tailor the interventions to participants’ risk factors.”

Potential for significant impact

He said the intervention could potentially translate into significant reductions in the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Postponing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by two years could reduce prevalence of the condition by up to 20%, and a five year delay could halve Alzheimer’s disease prevalence.

“The real attraction of this program, if it works, is that it could be delivered internationally via the internet,” Professor Brodaty said.

45 and Up Study Director Margo Barr said the “Maintain your Brain” study would be the largest intervention trial recruiting participants from the 45 and Up Study cohort

“One of the strengths of the 45 and Up Study is that it saves researchers a lot of time in screening for a suitable cohort for research,” she said. “Trials like this are exactly what 45 and Up Study was designed for.”

Ms Barr recently participated in the National Dementia Research Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange Forum, a two day conference focussing not only on the latest dementia research findings, but on how that research is informing practice and policy.

While much research in the past had focused on dementia services, Ms Barr said the focus was now turning to modifiable risk factors for dementia such as those being investigated in the new trial.

She took part in a panel discussion at the conference, in which members were challenged to use different approaches, from focusing on big data to a qualitative research approach, to address a hypothetical scenario around planning for the impact of dementia.

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