A New Direction in Positive Ageing

22 Oct 2012

CHeBA Blog: A New Direction in Positive Ageing

HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

It's official. Centenarians are the fastest growing demographic in Australia, which means that the likelihood of living to 100 and beyond is increasing exponentially. Today, females born in a Western country have a 40% chance of reaching 100. And the odds are increasing. Much of this is, of course, down to advances in medical science and its ability to keep our bodies functioning far longer than that of our predecessors.....but what about our brains?

With an ageing population comes a myriad of implications, good and bad. Positively, we get to live longer. We get to reap the rewards of retirement for up to 30 years longer than our ancestors. We have more life with our children, our grandchildren and, quite possibly, our great grandchildren. Negatively, the prevalence of age-related brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia is also on the rise - and to epidemic proportions. In another 50 years it is predicted that nearly 1 million Australians will have dementia, and the population over 80 will quadruple in size. Imagine that prediction for a moment - approximately 20% of the population with dementia. It's time to sit up and take notice of the facts. This is your future.

So what can we do? If neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's are on the rise, and we are facing a situation in Australia where we will need 9000 extra nursing home beds per year to deal with the current projections, not to mention the huge lack of staff and carers to look after us, should we just turn a blind eye and pretend it isn't coming?

No. We should not.

Enter the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing. On the 22nd of October 2012, a new direction in positive ageing was initiated with the launch of CHeBA, the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing. The truth is there is much that can be done to prevent such diabolical statistical outcomes in our society, and a vast percentage of that change capability comes from experts researching the ageing brain to find answers.

Highly regarded internationally in the realms of the ageing brain, Scientia Professors Perminder Sachdev and Henry Brodaty (who have well over 600 journal publications between them) are the dynamic duo that have teamed up to form CHeBA. Originally joining forces back in 1992 with an NHMRC grant funding their research into late-onset schizophrenia, their collective vision is to categorically change the future face of age-related disorders.

With the last decade showing significant developments in neuroscience, there is considerable hope given to the possibility that we may be in a position to prevent and treat age-related disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

"By investigating strategies to understand the mechanisms underpinning cognitive decline associated with the ageing brain, how to prevent this occurring and how best to help people with dementia and their families, our ultimate goal is for people to achieve their full life span and enjoy a good quality of life unaffected by loss of cognitive abilities," says Professor Brodaty.

According to Professor Sachdev, "The strength of CHeBA is in its multi-disciplinary approach, as it addresses ageing-related brain diseases through the latest work in epidemiology, clinical research, neuroimaging, genetics, proteomics and other innovative approaches. It also regards research as an international endeavour and is building consortia to bring the power of collaborative research to bear upon these challenging problems facing our society."

The launch of CHeBA itself set the scene for this new direction in positive ageing. The event had note-worthy presenters marking the occasion including UNSW Chancellor and leading philanthropist David Gonski AC, and Minister for Ageing and Disability Services Andrew Constance.

David Thomas of the Thomas Foundation (who has provided significant funding to the Centre), and CHeBA's ambassador, PJ Lane, whose father Don Lane passed away with Alzheimer's disease exactly three years prior to the day, both made emotive and heartfelt speeches that touched everyone in the audience. David Freeman AM of CHeBA's other major donor, Montefiore Home, also spoke. The Centre was officially launched by the Hon Susan Ryan AO, who congratulated Henry Brodaty and Perminder Sachdev for their persistent and enduring dedication to healthy ageing.

Nearly four months down the road CHeBA has already established itself firmly as a pre-eminent Centre in brain ageing research. With a focus on strong collaborations internationally to create broader and better outcomes through research, we can all be extremely thankful for the work that is being done by the Centre's co-directors and their fellow visionaries.

There is no doubt that in this battle to find answers and change the future there is an inordinate amount of research to be conducted, and for that to occur CHeBA needs the support of all Australians. Follow CHeBA's blog, attend public talks, take note of lifestyle choices that impact the ageing brain, share social media feeds, campaign for CHeBA at fundraising ventures and participate in research studies. With your help now, the bleak predictions can be revolutionised and we can all work toward reaching 100 with healthy brains.

CHeBA's Sydney Centenarian Study recently acquired its goal of 300 participants (Project Leader: Dr Charlene Levitan)