Tiffany Chau | Meet Our Researcher Series

19 Jun 2020

Tiffany Chau MOR

CHeBA’s Maintain Your Brain trial aims to target and mitigate risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease using e-health interventions. It is the largest clinical trial of its kind. If the onset of these diseases can be postponed by at least two years, incidence would be reduced by 20% and these numbers increase rapidly as years of delay is extended. Research Assistant Tiffany Chau hopes Maintain Your Brain can help achieve reduced prevalence rates and enhance cognitive health in older age.


How did you first get into researching the ageing brain?

I studied a Bachelor of Psychology when I was an undergrad and this degree is very research heavy. During my studies, I came across a Research Assistant role at the Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration. This role allowed me to build upon my established research skills and work closely with the older population. Through this role, I was fortunate enough to be able to extend my knowledge of cognitive decline and dementia. At that time, I did not personally know of family or friends with a diagnosis of dementia, so this was an entirely new experience for me. I became intrigued in this research area; particularly on how the brain develops as we age.


Did you experience a ‘defining moment’ which led you to this field?

I suppose there was not one specific defining moment; it was rather something that I grew into over several years. Watching my grandparents age really got me thinking about the future. Ageing is inevitable for everyone, so it would be amazing if we could all maintain our brain health and keep our minds active throughout the entirety of our lives.


Do you have any personal interests or activities which are protective behaviours against cognitive decline?

Tiffany Chau temple
In 2019 Tiffany hiked the Mount Shosha trail in Japan, taking this photo of the Engyo-ji Temple at the summit

I try to walk 10,000 steps every day and this was even before COVID-19. I would generally do things like getting off the bus a stop earlier to walk home. Now, I have started doing yoga in the morning which has been positive both physically and mentally. I finally understand the hype around yoga! I also try to eat as healthily as possible. After joining CHeBA, I learned about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and have since changed some of my eating habits such as incorporating olive oil for cooking and replacing white bread with wholegrain or wholemeal. I admit I am not perfect and some days I feel lazy or go slightly overboard with chocolate, but I tell myself that at least I am trying and that is what matters. I like to think that little changes here and there add up to big changes in life.

I am also a strong believer that socialisation with friends and family plays an important part in maintaining both our brain and mental health. If I'm not seeing them, such as what has occurred during COVID-19, I will pick up the phone and message or call for a chat.

What are you currently researching?

I am the Research Assistant for the Maintain Your Brain trial led by one of CHeBA’s Co-Directors, Professor Henry Brodaty and coordinated by Dr Megan Heffernan. This is the world’s largest internet-based trial, aimed at preventing cognitive decline and dementia. Since we started, over 6,200 participants have joined the trial to target modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The risk factors that we examine include physical inactivity, cognitive inactivity, depression, anxiety, and poor dietary habits. Individually, we know these risk factors are linked to lower rates of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. However, little is understood whether combining these interventions will generate greater benefits to our brain health; particularly when dementia has a multifactorial etiology and involves several mechanisms.


Why is your research important?

Dementia affects approximately 50 million people worldwide and it is projected to expand to over 131.5 million by 2050. It is also the leading cause of disability globally with costs estimated to exceed 800 billion dollars. Understanding what we can do to change our lifestyle - whether by little changes or big changes - is vital to maintaining brain health and ultimately lowering dementia prevalence and cost across the globe. 


What do you love about working for CHeBA

I am very appreciative and grateful to have the opportunity to work with Professor Henry Brodaty and the team at CHeBA. The environment here is extremely collaborative and supportive and it is great to know that everyone is willing to lend a hand and share ideas when you need assistance.

As part of my role in Maintain Your Brain, I interact with a lot of participants, both over the phone and through emails. It has been very fulfilling to hear that they have been making positive lifestyle changes since joining Maintain Your Brain. It has been a really great experience and the feedback has been fantastic.  


What is the ultimate hope you have for your research?

With the Maintain Your Brain trial, I hope we find evidence to prevent or delay cognitive decline and dementia. If we can postpone onset by even two years, we could reduce Alzheimer’s disease prevalence by up to 20%. If we could delay it even more, say for up to five years, that would half the prevalence. 

Dementia is complex and many factors come into play. I hope that through our research we find a clear path in terms of which strategies are effective to protect and maintain our brain health. If we do succeed in Maintain Your Brain, this will have a very positive and significant impact on everyone around the world and the cognitive health of future generations.


This interview was undertaken during the COVID-19 self-isolation period. Tiffany found that having daily conversations with her family and friends, as well as playing online group games such as trivia and Pictionary during video calls with friends helped support her mental resilience and kept her feeling socially connected while physically isolated. A morning yoga session every day has also considerably helped strengthen her mental health.


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Tiffany Chau is a Research Assistant within CHeBA’s Maintain Your Brain trial. It is the world’s largest clinical trial assessing the efficacy of using an e-health platform to target risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Tiffany obtained a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at the University of New South Wales and has also worked as a Research Assistant for the Leap for Life Study at the Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration.