Why are social interactions important for cognitive function?
Fifty million people worldwide have dementia (WHO, 2019). The world’s ageing population presents unprecedented challenges to us. As we age and our memory fades, we may lose confidence and become isolated from our friends and family. Lifestyle may hold the key to modifying dementia risk. The brain has a ‘use it or lose it’ rule and social interactions may help keep our brain healthy.
What is SHARED?
SHARED (Social Health And Reserve in the Dementia patient journey) is a project designed to uncover the links between social and brain factors connected to cognitive decline. It was jointly funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council ($750,000) and European Union’s Joint Program for Neurodegenerative Disorders (€2.5 million). It is the first international effort to harmonise work on social variables and examine their link to the onset and course of cognitive decline.
This project brought together teams of geriatricians, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, epidemiologists, and other researchers from 7 universities: Erasmus MC, Rotterdam (Netherlands), Radboudumc, Nijmegen (Netherlands), Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), UNSW Sydney (Australia), University College London (United Kingdom), University of Bremen (Germany), Wroclaw Medical University (Poland).
The teams are divided into subgroups called Work Packages, each with a specific focus. The Radboud MC team comprise Work Package 2 (trajectories) and are focusing on identifying trajectories of social and cognitive health across the lifespan. The Swedish and UK teams comprise Work Package 3 (pre-clinical phase) and are examining the risk/protective social factors associated with cognitive decline in healthy adults. The German and Polish teams comprise Work Package 5 (model building) and are developing theoretical models linking social factors with brain health and cognition. The CHeBA team comprise Work Package 4 (clinical phase) and are focusing primarily on individuals who have cognitive impairments and tracking their progress over time through the stages of dementia. Our focus is on causation and examining what factors mediate the relationship between social and cognitive health.
Objective 1: To map the trajectories of social health across the patient journey from cognitively healthy to dementia.
Objective 2: To unravel during the preclinical phase of dementia, the bidirectional link between social health and cognitive health, the underlying biological substrate and the factors impacting this link.
Objective 3: To unravel during the phase of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and clinical dementia, the bidirectional link between social health and cognitive health, the underlying biological substrate and the factors impacting this link.
Objective 4: To integrate the generated knowledge in objective 1, 2, 3 into a novel framework for prevention and intervention.
We bring together multiple longitudinal studies of cognitive ageing that together capture the whole life course and the entire population from cognitively healthy to severe dementia. We will select studies that have longitudinal data available on social, cognitive and brain reserve, brain imaging, environmental, clinical, physical and mental factors, and cognitive decline and onset of dementia. We will perform qualitative studies to probe additional relevant social factors and relations with cognitive reserve and function. Further, we will perform quantitative analyses that will leverage the vast amount of data available in these studies, including repeated and multi-level measurements.
International Research Team Leaders
Coordinator: Arfan Ikram, Erasmus MC Rotterdam
Rene Melis, Radboudumc
Anna-Karin Welmer, Karolinska Institutet
Henry Brodaty, UNSW Sydney
Daniel Davis, University College London
Karin Wolf-Ostermann, University of Bremen
Joanna Rymaszewska, Wroclaw Medical University
Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) Research Team: