Cognitive decline is often assumed to be a normal part of ageing. By 2025, dementia is estimated to cost Australia more than $18.7 billion, and is the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians.
We are steadfast in our commitment to developing interventions that focus on prevention, rather than treatment.
Through our research, we are mapping and measuring healthy brain functions so that we can better identify the predictors of debilitating conditions such as stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease, with a view to developing targeted strategies for slowing, and ultimately halting, cognitive decline.
Brain health for optimal ageing
The Healthy Brain Project is a community-based initiative with over 7000 participants that explores a range of factors related to optimal brain health and ageing. By examining the genetic underpinnings of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, depression and PTSD, this research is uncovering important insights into the biological bases of brain disorders.
The project explores how risk factors (such as high cholesterol, physical inactivity, diabetes) and protective factors (social engagement, occupational complexity, diet) impact risk for brain disorders. As these factors are often modifiable, understanding them better will enable us to better inform the types of lifestyle interventions and treatment strategies that can slow or even stop disease progression.
More effective treatments for Huntington’s Disease
Huntington’s disease (HD) profoundly affects not only people with the disease itself, but also their families and those who know they carry genetic risk. A current limitation of HD research is our ability to detect, through clinical trials, the effect on cognition that different treatments may be providing.
We are developing robust assessment techniques to detect treatment effects for the cognitive aspects of HD, which will ultimately support the identification of more effective treatments for this rare and debilitating disease. We are leading the growth of networks of HD families, and mapping clinical expertise across Australia, to improve outcomes for families living with HD.
Understanding the effects of poor sleep on Alzheimer’s disease
Sleep disturbance is common in dementia, potentially impairing daytime function and placing additional strain on carers. Identifying the specific aspects of sleep that relate to Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis is the first step towards the development of sleep interventions to reduce dementia risk.
Our research is investigating whether poor sleep relates to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We aim to determine the characteristics of sleep that best predict the risk of future dementia as well as key indicators of Alzheimer’s disease, such as brain shrinkage, a decline in memory, and changes in brain proteins.