Alzheimer's disease

HEALTH INFORMATION

Understanding the causes of and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease

WHAT WE KNOW

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia, a group of brain disorders that affect a person’s memory, thinking and ability to interact socially. Alzheimer’s disease affects about 1 in 10 people over 65 years, and almost 1 in 4 people over 85 years.

At present, we don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. We do know that people with this illness have abnormal material that builds up in their brain. These protein ‘tangles’ and ‘plaques’ disrupt communication between brain cells and lead to eventual cell death and brain shrinkage. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Available treatments only target symptoms, not the underlying biological cause of the disease.

We are conducting research into the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease in order to find potential targets for therapeutic intervention. We are also studying how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain and body early in the disease, with the aim of developing a diagnostic test. Through our research on healthy ageing, we are working with Indigenous communities to increase our knowledge about ageing and dementia in Australian Aboriginal people living in urban areas.

 

OUR LATEST RESEARCH

NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cognitive Health

The Centre of Research Excellence in Cognitive Health focuses on the integrally linked areas of optimising cognitive health and the prevention of cognitive decline.

The centre aims to:

  • Build the evidence base in cognitive health promotion and prevention of cognitive decline, focussing on evaluating putative new risks and under researched areas
  • Develop methods of transferring, translating and implementing established findings, through the development and evaluation of interventions
  • Model population level impacts of cognitive impairment and risk modification to quantify potential economic benefits of risk reduction and to inform policy.

The CRE Cognitive Health led by Professor Kaarin Anstey is a collaboration between Chief and Associate Investigators from the Australian National University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, Australian Catholic University, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and University of Exeter.

For more information about the CRE Cognitive Health, please visit the centre website, including more information on research themes, news and events, and recent publications.

The CRE Cognitive Health is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) study

The DIAN study aims to find biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease that are detectable long before the initial clinical symptoms. Participants undergo brain scans and clinical assessments and provide blood and spinal fluid for research.

Genetics of early onset Alzheimer's disease

Dementia is usually thought of as a disease of ageing. However, the burden of young onset dementia, with symptoms occurring before age 65, has recently been identified as an important area not well supported by the health care system. Dr Bill Brooks has continued his development of information and support systems for use by families that have early onset hereditary dementias.

Causes, consequences and costs of injury-related hospitalisations for people with dementia: identify

This research program explores the influence of dementia on the pattern of hospital admissions, clinical care, health outcomes and economic costs of older people with an injury-related hospitalisation. It provides data on the impact of injury on a person with dementia and the health system more generally.

Preventing Falls in Older Adults with Cognitive Impairement or Dementia (IFOCIS)

The IFOCIS study aims to determine the ability of an individualised exercise and home hazard reduction program to reduce the rates of falls in older people living in the community with cognitive impairment or dementia. To do this, we have two groups– an ‘intervention’ group and a ‘control’ group. The Intervention program involves: an exercise program and a home hazard reduction program delivered by experienced therapists tailored to the participant’s cognitive and physical abilities. Carers are an integral part of the intervention team, as some participants require supervision for exercise sessions. We work with carers to help them understand how to get the best from the participant they are caring for, in terms of their ‘functional cognition’, completing the exercises and preventing falls.

Taking this individual approach means that participants can have very different cognitive abilities and still be included in our study. No other study has done this to date.

All participants will undergo an assessment at baseline with re tests at 6 and 12 months to compare each of these groups on things like strength & balance. The primary outcome is the rate of falls during the 12 month study period which is collected using falls diaries on a monthly basis.

Recruitment for the project is now in the 2nd year. We have enrolled 184 participants and their carers into the trial from the Prince of Wales hospital / NeuRA site and the Hornsby hospital site. We hope to have 360 participants enrolled by the end of 2017. We continue to recruit from Prince of Wales and Hornsby hospital wards and outpatient clinics and other Sydney metropolitan hospital dementia day clinics.

Understanding and preventing physical and cognitive decline and falls in older people with dementia

Falls and functional decline are common in people with dementia. Falls are more likely to result in injury, death and institutionalisation when compared to older people without dementia. There is limited evidence that falls can be prevented in people with dementia. Strategies aimed at maintaining independence and preventing decline and falls are urgently needed. This research will a) further our understanding of fall risk and functional decline and b) explore novel fall and decline prevention programs, including the use of technology in older people with dementia.

Alzheimer's disease

This project focuses on how pathology spreads during disease progression, the link between amyloid-β (Aβ) and tau pathology, and down-stream mechanisms of Aβ- and tau toxicity.

Falls, ageing and dementia in Indigenous Australians

We aim to identify determinants for the high prevalence of dementia in Indigenous Australians, and will now extend these findings by exploring determinants for the high prevalence of falls.

Koori Growing Old Well Study

The primary aim of a proposed longitudinal study is to find the reasons for the high dementia rates (three times non-Indigenous rates) in urban/regional Aboriginal people.

NeuroSleep: A NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence

This project aims to understand the bidirectional relationship between sleep and the brain to test and develop new approaches to treatment for sleep disruption across a range of medical disorders.  

Role of the glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3B) and microtubule associated protein Tau (MAPT) genes in neurodegeneration

Both GSK3B and MAPT genes control crucial processes in the cell. We have shown that genetic polymorphisms in these two genes interact to increase risk for late-onset, idiopathic neurodegeneration. We aim to discover whether the two genes will have an effect in other diseases and to determine the biological mechanisms in the genes act to increase disease risk.

Positional cloning of a chromosome 16 dementia / motor neurone disease gene

The aims of this project are to undertake the biological characterisation of this novel neurodegeneration gene. We are also examining a panel of commercially available and clinically relevant agonists and antagonists to modulate key pathways involved in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Eating and metabolic changes in FTD and MND

We have looked at the impact of overeating on body weight, cholesterol and insulin levels and relating all of these changes to regions of brain pathology as demonstrated by MRI imaging. We are now extending these studies to investigate patients with motor neurone disease and with Alzheimer’s as well as those at risk of genetic FTD.

Koori Active and Healthy Ageing Project

“Healthy ageing is your mind staying young” – Koori Growing Old Well Study participant

 

Healthy Ageing calls for cognitively, physically and socially active lifestyles. The current project seeks to recognise existing community strengths but work to enhance participation and engagement, provide new resources specific to healthy ageing and develop an accessible platform for rolling out this intervention to diverse older people and communities, enabling widespread benefit. We will trial a cutting-edge approach to advance healthy ageing with implications for many Australians to benefit, particularly older Aboriginal people.

The project examines how to implement evidence based healthy ageing programs in urban and regional Aboriginal communities. Elders play a vital role in Indigenous communities, providing leadership, caring for family, and transmitting cultural knowledge and practices. However, the health, well-being and quality of life of the increasing numbers of older Indigenous people, are threatened by high rates of dementia, falls and depression. Novel culturally-safe approaches are needed to better engage and support Indigenous peoples in terms of healthy ageing. This research will develop and evaluate effective, culturally appropriate, and accessible strategies to promote healthy ageing in Aboriginal communities. It will also investigate whether and how resilience related to social and cultural cohesion can protect well-being in Indigenous communities.

What else is happening in Alzheimer’s disease research at NeuRA?

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