Why dementia researchers are excited about the 45 and Up Study

Our understanding of dementia in Australia is taking a step forward with the help of the 45 and Up Study. For the first time, the Study is being used to investigate the incidence of dementia in Australia, as well as the proportion of dementia that is preventable through modifying risk factors. It’s a development that gives the 45 and Up Study even more value to researchers and decision makers.

The ‘Addressing Dementia through Analysis of Population Traits and Risk Factors (ADAPTOR)’ project is led by Sax Institute Deputy CEO Dr Martin McNamara. It’s

funded by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) through The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, which is administered by the Sax Institute.

The project, which combines analysis of 45 and Up Study data with a literature review on risk factors of dementia, will be sharing its initial findings in the coming months.

“It’s great to see the 45 and Up Study being used to further our knowledge of dementia, which is going to affect twice as many Australians in a few decades,” Dr McNamara says. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that between 386,200 and 472,000 currently have dementia and predicts that figure will double by the year 2058.

The ADAPTOR project has combed through over a decade of information on the 45 and Up Study’s 267,000 participants, including data on use of hospitals, GPs, health services and prescription medication. Importantly, it has adjusted for duplicate indicators of dementia across all data sets, which has been a significant obstacle for research into dementia prevalence and incidence.

“Once we successfully identify a person with dementia, we can then track back and understand some of the contributing factors that may have led to dementia – such as obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption – and look at where earlier intervention could have the biggest impact on reducing dementia in the population,” Dr McNamara says.

Several leading dementia experts are contributing to the project. Working on ADAPTOR’s scientific steering committee is Henry Brodaty AO, Scientia Professor at UNSW and Co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing. Professor Brodaty has been a supporter of the 45 and Up Study for many years; he used the Study to recruit participants for his ‘Maintain Your Brain’ study on interventions that target dementia’s risk factors.

“The 45 and Up Study is just such a wonderful resource ­­– one of the largest studies in the world,” he says. “The linkage data that goes with it is particularly valuable.”

Another expert on the committee is Kaarin Anstey, who is also a Scientia Professor at UNSW as well as Senior Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA, the Director of the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute and Co-Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research. She has led the cohort study ‘PATH Through Life’ for 20 years.

Professor Anstey says the power of local data can’t be understated, because so often dementia researchers have depended on estimates from overseas. “The fact that it’s Australian data and we can link it to other data sets, revealing geographic and cultural information, makes it a really valuable data set that hasn’t been fully realised yet.”

For instance, while it’s important we know that the global estimate of dementia cases that potentially could be prevented is 40%, the figure for Australia may be different. “We have very high rates of obesity and physical inactivity which may increase the estimates here,” Professor Anstey notes. Getting good quality data from the 45 and Up Study will help refine the estimates and help decision-makers figure out where to invest our public prevention dollar, she adds.

Professor Brodaty agrees that ADAPTOR’s findings will be extremely important and hopes more discoveries will follow. “We don’t know yet what generational change is happening, in terms of risk factors and incidence,” he says. “We also don’t know if our incidence of dementia is dropping, as it is in other Western countries.”

All in all, there’s good reason for people working in dementia and aged care research to be excited about ADAPTOR and the 45 and Up Study, says Professor Anstey. “There’s a lot of potential and it could really open up research opportunities if it’s made available to researchers.”

  • If you’d like to collaborate with the 45 and Up Study on a dementia or aged care project, contact us here.
  • Learn more about The ADAPTOR project here.
  • Listen to a podcast on dementia featuring Dr Martin McNamara and Professor Henry Brodarty here.
  • To stay up-to-date on the 45 and Up study, sign up for our newsletter or explore more of the research here.