Body, Brain, Life to reduce Alzheimer's Disease risk

At the recent DCRC National Dementia Research Forum, Professor Kaarin Anstey, Director of the DCRC – Early Diagnosis and Prevention, based at the Australian National University, presented preliminary data from the Body, Brain, Life Project. This Project aimed to evaluate an online intervention to assist people at risk of dementia make lifestyle changes to address several modifiable risk factors for dementia.


Pictured: Professor Kaarin Anstey

Prof Kaarin Anstey presented a workshop outlining the findings identified shortly after the completion of the Body, Brain, Life Project. The Project implemented and evaluated an online intervention designed to assist people at risk of dementia to make lifestyle changes addressing several modifiable risk factors for dementia.


Prof Anstey set the background of the study by outlining the need for population-based interventions designed at preventing the onset of dementia. There are four ways in which dementia could theoretically be prevented:

  • by administering a pharmaceutical that prevents pathology developing;
  • immunising against dementia causes;
  • intervening in people with early pathology to prevent symptoms developing; and
  • intervening to prevent factors that increase the risk of the disease at the population level.


Prof Anstey said that with the present state of research, only the final option is a possibility. In this context, it is prudent to consider adjusting modifiable lifestyle risk factors, which are known to be both highly prevalent and influential on disease risk, thereby providing a means to reduce the risk of dementia across the population.


The Body, Brain, Life Project therefore recruited people who had one or more known risk factors for dementia, namely being overweight, having a history of depression, history of smoking, low social engagement, pesticide exposure, diabetes, brain injury, or low education. These participants were then randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: an active control group; an online-only intervention; or a combined online and face-to-face intervention.


The online intervention consisted of learning modules targeting knowledge of dementia and factors that can contribute positively or adversely to the risk of dementia. The face-to-face intervention consisted of regular small group meetings in which participants discussed the content of the online modules. Meanwhile, the active control group were provided a weekly email with links to websites containing information on dementia and dementia risk reduction.


Data was collected from participants at three points in time: in face-to-face interviews at the beginning and conclusion of the study (6 months later); and online after all learning modules were completed (3 months into the study). Prof Anstey said that when results are fully analysed they expect to find the most significant findings on the ANU-ADRI measure of Alzheimer's disease risk. In addition, the research team may see changes to physical measures associated with risk factors and cognition.


Presenting the preliminary findings, Prof Anstey highlighted that not only was the intervention feasible but all groups improved on the primary outcome measure, the ANU-ADRI. This even included that active control condition, indicating that all participants had in some way reduced their risk of dementia.


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