Sydney Memory and Ageing Study

CHeBA Research Project: Sydney Memory and Ageing Study
The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS) investigates rates and predictors of health and cognitive decline in older adults. MAS is especially interested in when/why normally functioning adults who show evidence of memory or cognitive decline either progress to dementia or improve.


The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS), is a longitudinal study which began in 2005. The study aims to determine the effects of ageing on cognition over time and what predicts and what protects against cognitive decline and dementia. MAS is one of the largest longitudinal studies of this kind in Australia and has resulted in more than 120 scientific publications and many national and international collaborations.

Design and Method

At the baseline assessment from 2005 to 2007, 1037 non-demented individuals aged 70-90 were recruited from two areas of Sydney, following a random approach to 8914 individuals on the electoral roll. They underwent detailed neuropsychological and medical assessments and donated a blood sample for clinical chemistry, proteomics and genomics. A knowledgeable informant was also interviewed. Structural MRI scans were performed on 544 of the participants, and subgroups participated in studies of falls and balance, metabolic and inflammatory markers, functional MRI and prospective memory. The group is followed up with detailed assessments every two years and brief telephone reviews in the intervening years. Throughout 2018-19, our participants will take part in their 12-year follow-up assessments.


See the latest Sydney MAS publications.

  • Older people in the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study are generally well-functioning, with most of them rating their general health as good to excellent, despite significant vascular morbidity observed in the sample.
  • Most participants (95.5%), or their informants, identified a cognitive difficulty at baseline. 43.5% of participants had impairment on at least one neuropsychological test.
  • The rate of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) was relatively high in this population at baseline. Males had a significantly higher prevalence of MCI than females (40.5% vs. 33.7%).
  • Participants with MCI were more likely to develop dementia over the 2-year follow-up period than those without MCI.
  • Participants with current depressive symptoms or a history of depression at baseline had higher levels of psychological distress and anxiety, lower life satisfaction and showed poorer cognitive performance in memory and executive functioning.
  • Baseline depression was associated with subsequent dementia.
  • Baseline anxiety was associated with subsequent MCI at 2-year follow-up.
  • Risk factors for developing MCI or dementia within a 6-year follow-up period included: increasing age, MCI at baseline, poorer smelling ability, being an APOE ε4 carrier and slower walking speed. There was a considerable overlap between the risk factors for mortality and those for dementia.
  • Recent alcohol consumption (including “low consumption” and “risky consumption”) was not associated with incident dementia at 4-year follow-up. Carriers of the APOE ɛ4 allele were more likely to develop dementia, but there was no significant interaction with alcohol consumption.
  • Older adults’ performance on a test of reaction time indicated their likelihood of developing dementia. Individuals who had slower responses on a simple reaction time task were 2-3 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of dementia within four years.
  • Structural MRI distinguishes the brains of elderly individuals with ‘amnestic MCI’ from those classified as ‘cognitively normal’. Amnestic MCI was associated with smaller volumes of overall cortex, medial temporal structures, anterior corpus callosum and select frontal and parietal regions compared with brains from cognitively normal individuals.
  • Development and validation of a new assessment tool, the Sydney Test of Activities of Daily Living (STAM). The STAM is designed to objectively assess an older person’s level of independence in ‘Instrumental Activities of Daily Living’ such as managing medications, shopping and handling finances. The STAM can be used to differentiate between normal cognition, MCI, and dementia and can be a helpful tool for diagnostic classification both in clinical practice and research.
  • Functional connectivity studies examine the neural interactions, or connections, between different regions of the brain. Our research has identified that age and educational attainment confer independent influences on brain patterns supporting cognitive processes. It implies that age-related changes may be influenced by positive lifestyle factors that modify the risk of cognitive impairment such as educational attainment.

Research Highlights

New research has identified a core set of risk factors for the development of mild cognitive impairment and dementia. These include older age, mild cognitive impairment at baseline, poorer smelling ability, slower walking speed, and being an APOE ε4 carrier. Tests for slower walking speed and poorer smelling ability may help screen for cognitive decline.

MAS Updates

The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS) is excited to announce the completion of our 10-year follow-up interviews. We have no plans of slowing down; 12-year follow-up interviews commenced in September 2018. As always, we are grateful to our participants for generously donating their time to MAS. Because of them, our team has discovered an enormous amount about all aspects of ageing, including memory and cognition, physical health, genetics, brain structure, and mortality. Our 7th wave of data collection makes MAS one of Australia’s largest and longest running studies of ageing and cognition.

MAS is also pleased to introduce a new staff member: Dr Katya Numbers.

Dr Katya Numbers, Sydney Memory and Ageing StudyDr Katya Numbers has a PhD in Cognitive Science from Macquarie University and a Master of Science in Psychology from Montana State University. She has worked extensively with older populations from longitudinal studies of ageing and dementia across Australia and the US. Katya’s research focuses on peoples’ subjective beliefs about memory and age and whether these beliefs predict and/or influence actual memory performance over time.




For all CHeBA publications, see Publications.

Methodology Paper

Sachdev PS, Brodaty H, Reppermund S, Kochan NA, Trollor JN, Draper B, Slavin MJ, Crawford J, Kang K, Broe GA, Mather KA, Lux O; Memory and Ageing Study Team. The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS): methodology and baseline medical and neuropsychiatric characteristics of an elderly epidemiological non-demented cohort of Australians aged 70-90 years (256kb, PDF). Int Psychogeriatr. 2010, 22(8):1248-64

Latest Papers

Authors Title Journal
Paradise, M., et al. The relationship of cerebral microbleeds to cognition and incident dementia in non-demented older individuals Brain Imaging and Behaviour, 1-12. 25 May, 2018.
Wang, L., et al. Body mass index and waist circumference predict health-related quality of life, but not satisfaction with life, in the elderly Quality of Life Research 1-13. June 2018.