Published on: November 19, 2021
The 2021 Dementia Prevention Conference took place on Thursday, 28th October online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Over 350 people registered for the event to hear the latest from world-class researchers.
Attendees included researchers, consumers, and those with lived experience of dementia.
A range of lifestyle factors (diet, sleep, exercise) and pharmacological interventions were featured across the day, highlighting the emerging need for dementia prevention targeting a whole-person, whole of life approach.
A summary of presentations is presented below.
Professor Laura D. Baker, Professor of Internal Medicine, Neurology, and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina.
Our keynote speaker, Professor Laura D. Baker, opened the conference to much acclaim with an extensive overview of her work in dementia prevention. As Associate Director of the Wake Forest Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre, North Carolina, and an international leader of the field, we were honoured to have Prof Baker join us. Presenting on Multi-domain Lifestyle Interventions to Prevent Cognitive Decline and Dementia, Prof Baker outlined how the last 20 years have seen considerable advances in the identification of single-domain lifestyle interventions, including, physical exercise, diet, cognitive training, and cardiovascular risk management. A recent evolution of lifestyle trials is to combine these components offering an important opportunity to boost lifestyle intervention ‘dose’, that is, to determine if multiple interventions combined may achieve better outcomes. The potential to tailor interventions to meet the specific needs and limitations of older adults was also discussed. We sincerely thank Prof Baker for her contribution to the field and for joining us at the conference.
Professor Karen Charlton, Nutritional epidemiologist and Public Health Nutrition domain leader in the Nutrition and Dietetics programme, University of Wollongong.
The importance of diet featured heavily, particularly the potential benefits from compounds found in specific food colours. Prof Charlton gave an overview of the importance of purple foods for fighting dementia. In her presentation, The Colour Purple: The Role of Anthocyanins in Preventing Cognitive Decline, Prof Charlton highlighted her work demonstrating purple foods (particularly blueberries and plums) significantly improved short and long term memory, and verbal fluency in older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Evidence for these purple foods reducing inflammation was also presented. All attendees left feeling encouraged to go out and enjoy all the wonderful summer berries!
Professor Sharon Naismith, Clinical Neuropsychologist, NHMRC Dementia Leadership Fellow, Brain and Mind Centre, The University of Sydney.
Professor Naismith provided an overview of the types of sleep changes that have been linked to dementia and cognitive decline. “With ageing, there are various changes to the sleep-wake systems, including reduced sleep time, less deep sleep, more nocturnal awakenings, daytime napping and circadian advance. Formal sleep disorders such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea are also more common.” Prof Naismith highlighted how many of these sleep-wake changes are pronounced in dementia and raise the possibility that sleep could be a viable target for primary or secondary dementia prevention. Prof Naismith then provided an excellent overview of possible mechanisms that may link sleep disturbance to cognitive decline and dementia, and possible treatment targets.
Associate Professor Belinda Brown, Deputy Director of the Centre for Healthy Ageing at Murdoch University
The third key lifestyle factor highlighted at the conference focused on the importance of physical activity. A/Prof Brown states, “Research to date has shown higher levels of everyday physical activity are linked to enhanced cognition and lower risk of dementia later in life. Nevertheless, there remains limited evidence in this field – there is not yet sufficient evidence regarding how physical activity benefits the brain, what type of physical activity is of greatest benefit, and who will gain the greatest benefit,” A/Prof Brown’s research aims to understand the mechanisms by which physical activity reduces dementia risk, identify the level of intensity needed to obtain the greatest benefits to brain health, and why some people respond more favourably to physical activity than others. Reminding us of the simplicity of movement in the fight against dementia, A/Prof Brown concluded by saying, “Physical activity and structured exercise represent a preventative approach for dementia that can be rapidly implemented on a large scale, with low associated costs and utilizing widespread and readily available existing infrastructure.”
Professor Ralph Martins
We were honoured to have Prof Martins join us to provide an overview of the current state of pharmacological interventions in dementia. Prof Martin is the Director and Foundation Chair in Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University within the School of Medical and Health Sciences. He was the first to demonstrate oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s disease, a seminal finding for the Alzheimer research community. Prof Martins provided an overview of the role of amyloid-beta in Alzheimer’s disease and potential drug treatments in development.
Associate Professor Kay Cox, University of Western Australia
A/Prof Cox expanded on the importance of physical activity in dementia prevention, highlighting findings from a recent intervention study, the INDIGO study. A 6-month, home-based physical activity programme for older adults at risk of cognitive decline, results from INDIGO showed positive benefits from both goal-setting with mentor support; and peer contact and education. A/Prof Cox highlighted the high adherence rate as evidence for the ability to provide successful and enjoyable activity programmes in older adults which may assist in reducing cognitive decline.
Dr Amit Lampit, Senior Research Fellow at the Academic Unit for Psychiatry of Old Age, University of Melbourne.
The application of computerised cognitive training (CCT) in dementia prevention was highlighted by Dr Lampit. “Following over two decades of research and hundreds of clinical trials, the field is moving from asking whether CCT should be used into how we can maximise its dementia prevention potential going forward.” The translation of CCT to the clinic is a complex process requiring flexibility and affordability. Dr Lampit is leading the way in bringing CCT to clinical practice.
Scientia Professor Kaarin Anstey, DCRC Director
ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of the International Research Network on Dementia Prevention.
The need for the early identification of dementia and reliable assessments to determine dementia risk were highlighted by Prof Anstey, a world-leader in dementia prevention and conference host. Dementia risk assessment is complicated by the long prodromal (or pre-symptomatic) period of the disease, the complexity in relationships among risk factors, and the different interpretations of risk depending on life stage. Prof Anstey highlighted her work identifying 17 risk factors for inclusion in a new tool for dementia risk assessment called ‘CogDrisk’ for use in middle and older-aged adults.
Dr Maree Farrow, Senior Lecturer at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at the University of Tasmania
The ability to effectively raise awareness of the latest in dementia prevention knowledge is an ongoing challenge highlighted by the World Health Organisation. The Island Study Linking Ageing and Neurodegenerative Disease (ISLAND) has recruited thousands of Tasmanians aged 50+ to provide longitudinal data on risk knowledge and behaviour, cognitive performance, and biomarkers. Approximately 150,000 participants across the globe have taken part in the Preventing Dementia MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), demonstrating high levels of satisfaction, improved knowledge and motivation to make lifestyle changes to reduce dementia risk.
Rapid Fire Presentations
The day concluded with a range of brief presentations including,
- Kirsten Dillon
- Dr Peter Fransquent
- Katherine Huynh
- Dr Louise Mewton
- Nathalie Launder
- Dr Nikki-Anne Wilson (principal conference organiser and DCRC Knowledge Translation Fellow)
We thank everyone who joined us for helping to make the 2021 Dementia Prevention Conference such a resounding success.