NeuRA Magazine #25

Feature story

AGEING WELL FOR LIFE

Professor Kaarin Anstey

Understanding risk factors around dementia with Professor Kaarin Anstey

“Waiting until your 60s and thinking,
‘I don’t want to get dementia’ isn’t a great plan,” says Professor Kaarin Anstey.

We think about our superannuation before retirement, so why don’t we do the same with dementia? Almost one in 10 Australians aged over 65 have dementia; by age 85, the prevalence increases to one in three. It was once thought that dementia was a late-life disease that could not be prevented. But we now know that we can do a lot to reduce our risk.

You really have to be thinking about protecting your brain across all age groups of your life. It can be hard to think about being 80 when you are only 40 but creating an ageing well life-plan ahead of retirement will support you and your family in the years to come.

Research has shown that there are actions you can take now to reduce your risk of dementia, and these need to be incorporated into your healthy living plan as early as possible.

It’s predicted that there will be almost one million Australians with dementia by 2050 and 10 times as many family members and friends suffering indirectly from its effects. It’s never too late to start your ageing well plan.

There is so much we can all do to age well. Start by watching our Ageing Well for Life seminar series online at www.neuratalks.org

The seminar series, led by Professor Kaarin Anstey, Senior Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA and global leader in dementia and ageing research, takes you through the simple steps you can take to age well and reduce your risk of dementia.

Cognitive activity is important

We know from lots of research that people who do more stimulating activities throughout their life have better brain function and a lower chance of developing dementia.  

A cognitive activity is an activity that challenges our perception, attention, memory, reasons and problem-solving abilities. There is a wide range of cognitive activities, some of them involve everyday activities like reading a book, and others challenge our mind like puzzles or crosswords. Scientists think that such activities may protect the brain by establishing ‘cognitive reserve’. 

When our ‘cognitive lifestyle’ doesn’t have enough cognitive activities then we are more likely to have problems with our thinking and memory and be at risk of age-related diseases (like dementia). Even if you have not been cognitively active so far, starting today may still have a large impact on dementia risk. 

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FEEL THE BUZZ IN THE AIR? US TOO.

Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.
PROJECT