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. 

See what’s going on at NeuRA

FEEL THE BUZZ IN THE AIR? US TOO.

Exploring the electrophysiology and heritability of wellbeing and resilience

The majority of adults without a mental illness still experience poor mental health, indicating a need for a better understanding of what separates mental wellness from mental illness. One way of exploring what separates those with good mental health from those with poor mental health is to use electroencephalography (EEG) to explore differences in brain activity within the healthy population. Previous research has shown that EEG measures differ between clinical groups and healthy participants, suggesting that these measures are useful indicators of mental functioning. Miranda Chilver’s current project aims to examine how different EEG measures relate to each other and to test if they can be used to predict mental wellbeing. Furthermore, she hopes to distinguish between EEG markers of symptoms including depression and anxiety, and markers of positive symptoms of wellbeing to better understand how wellbeing can exist independently of mental illness. This will be done by obtaining measures of wellbeing and depression and anxiety symptoms using the COMPAS-W and DASS-42 questionnaires, respectively. Because EEG measures and mental wellbeing are both impacted by genetics as well as the environment, Miranda will also be testing whether the links found between EEG activity and Wellbeing are driven primarily by heritable or by environmental factors. This information will inform the development of future interventions that will aim to improve wellbeing in the general population. To achieve these goals, the project will assess the relationship between EEG activity and wellbeing, and between EEG and depression and anxiety symptoms to first test whether there is an association between EEG and mental health. Second, the heritability of the EEG, wellbeing, depression, and anxiety will be assessed to determine the extent to which these variables are explained through heritable or environmental factors. Finally, a model assessing the overlap between the heritable versus environmental contributions to each measure will be developed to assess whether genetics or environment drive the relationship between EEG and mental health. This project is based on a sample of over 400 healthy adult twins from the Australian TWIN-E study of resilience led by Dr Justine Gatt. This research will pave the way for improved mental health interventions based on individual needs.
PROJECT