The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS), is one of Australia’s largest and longest running studies of ageing and cognitive health. MAS began in 2005 with the aims of investigating rates and predictors of healthy cognitive ageing, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia in older Australians. Over the last 14 years, MAS has collected biomarker, genetic/epigenomic, neuroimaging, cognitive, proteomics/lipidomics, health, and lifestyle data to determine what factors are associated with cognitively normal ageing and progression to MCI or dementia.
CHeBA Longitudinal Studies
Despite the rapid ageing of our population there have been only a few population-based studies of centenarians and near-centenarians internationally, and none in Australia. The study of exceptionally long lived individuals will shed light on the determinants of successful aging, both environmental and genetic. It will also help us understand the health care requirements of this group and enable us to plan accordingly.
The Older Australian Twins Study is a longitudinal study investigating healthy brain ageing in older twins (65+ years). Healthy ageing is characterised by low levels of disability, high cognitive and functional capacity, and an active engagement in life. The most important ingredient of healthy ageing is a healthy brain, bereft of age-related diseases and dysfunction. Brain ageing and brain diseases are determined by multiple genetic factors that interact with environmental influences. Since identical twins share 100% of their genetic code, whereas non-identical twins share half their genetic information, detailed comparisons of these two groups has the potential to discover new genes involved in cognitive decline or resilience.
Maintain Your Brain is a randomised controlled trial of multiple online interventions designed to target modifiable risk factors for dementia in general and AD in particular. Risk factors to be addressed are physical inactivity, cognitive inactivity, depression/anxiety, overweight and obesity, and poor dietary habits. Up to four intervention modules (physical activity, nutrition, brain training, and peace of mind) will be administered based on individual risk profiles. All activities and assessments will be conducted on a computer with internet access via the Maintain Your Brain eHealth platform.
ADNeT brings together 25 researchers across 15 Australian institutions, including the University of Melbourne, UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), Monash University, Austin Health, Edith Cowan University, CSIRO, Flinders University, Macquarie University, NeuRA, QIMR Berghofer, SAHMRI, University of Newcastle, University of Sydney, University of Tasmania and the University of Queensland. These researchers and institutions are working on three key initiatives:
Some cognitive abilities ‘naturally’ decline as we get older. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias increases with older age. Therefore, distinguishing dementia and mild neurocognitive impairment from normal age‐related cognitive change is a major challenge for clinicians and researchers.
Recent brain stimulation research suggests that mild brain stimulation (ie. tDCS) when given during performance of a cognitive (memory) task in a single session improves performance. Also patients who have had a stroke learn how to do certain 'hands-on' tasks better when participants receive a course of brain stimulation treatment. There is research that computerised brain training benefits people with memory problems (ie. MCI or Mild Cognitive Impairment). People with aMCI experience mild difficulties with their memory but are otherwise functioning well in their day to day activities. Usually the individual notices that their memory has recently got worse compared to a few years ago. They may experience more difficulty remembering names, appointments or where they put something. People with aMCI are at increased risk of future dementia.
Dementia is a major health problem with 200 Australians diagnosed every day and at least as many having mild cognitive impairment which often precedes dementia. Early diagnosis is critical for interventions yet many older adults at risk do not receive a timely diagnosis. Objective assessment of cognitive abilities is essential for accurate diagnosis at mild or early stages. However, there are insufficient specialist trained personnel and resources to meet the demand for cognitive assessments.
The International Centenarian Consortium of Dementia (ICC-Dementia) aims to explore factors that predict successful ageing into the 11th decade of life that are robust across international cohorts through international collaboration and data sharing. This project is motivated by the variation in approaches for diagnosing dementia and cognitive impairment across studies and the under-studied questions including the global prevalence of dementia in persons aged 95 and above and the risk and protective factors for dementia across ethno-regional groups of long-lived individuals.
The objective of DPAU is to support researcher access to data from one or several Contributing Research Studies (CRS) and thereby enable new insights into ageing, ageing-related diseases and dementia risk, with the aim of transforming the epidemiology of ageing and dementia.
Diagnosis and prediction of MCI and AD using pattern recognition and data-mining methods. Early and accurate diagnosis and prediction of MCI and AD is essential for developing new treatments which may prevent AD, or slow its progression. However, this is particularly challenging due to the subtlety of brain changes at the very early stages of the disease.
Most complex traits, such as blood protein levels and memory performance, have a genetic component and many genes are thought to be involved. In genome-wide association studies, known as GWAS, we test whether millions of genetic variants are associated with a measure of interest, such as blood protein levels. These studies are undertaken within CHeBA, with other national and international studies and in collaboration with international consortia.
MCI represents a transitional state in which individuals show impairment of cognitive function, but retain relatively intact global cognition. We explored the different grey matter change patterns of normal ageing and MCI.
A hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain, which typically starts many years before symptoms are observed. We used amyloid PET brain scans to investigate this plaque build-up in pairs of twins at risk of developing AD. The data is currently undergoing analysis to calculate the heritability of these plaques - that is, to determine to what degree genes play a role. We are also investigating potentially modifiable environmental factors that may be contributing to the build-up of plaques and the associated changes in memory and thinking.