The entire state of Tasmania will be the focus of a ten-year study into whether dementia can be prevented by modifying risk factors.
The ISLAND (Island Study Linking Ageing and Neurodegenerative Disease) Project will be the largest study of its kind in the world and the first to target a whole population through a public health and education campaign.
The Wicking Demenita Research and Education Centre, which will run the study, is hoping to recruit 10,000 “champions” over the next six months.
Wicking Dementia Centre Director Professor James Vickers says Tasmania has the oldest and most rapidly ageing population in the country, with a median age of over fifty.
A population primed for dementia
It also has the highest rate of modifiable risk factors for dementia, including obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, low activity rates and low educational attainment.
“It’s a population that’s fairly well primed and at risk anyway of developing dementia,” he told Community Care Review.
Meanwhile, the state is well contained, making it easy to conduct a longitudinal study, and residents have previously shown an enthusiasm for volunteering for and sticking to studies, he said.
It’s believed that one in three cases of dementia can potentially be prevented by changing certain lifestyle factors.
“The project will provide strategies for individuals and communities to promote and engage in activities to improve many dementia risk factors,” Professor Vickers said.
“We’ll saturate the state over many years with messages relating to dementia risk to see if that will make a difference to the actual incidence.
“It’s trying to figure out whether once you start to know about risk factors, does it change any of those behaviours? Then over the longer term, if you can get the behaviour to change, does that lead to reduced risk of actually developing the condition?”
The project will involve the development of a toolbox to help participants monitor risk factors and will also establish a state-wide registry to track the incidence of the disease.
It will also engage with the Wicking Centre’s Prevening Dementia online course, or MOOC, to educate the community about ways of potentially lowering the risk of dementia.
Participants will also engage in range of associated studies aimed at identifying people most at risk including resilience, genetics, biomarkers, surveys and clinical studies.
Professor James Vickers says the scale of the study makes it a bold one, and possibly the first to prospectively test whether modifiying risk can prevent dementia.
“It’s been estimated how much general risk factors can add to your risk of developing dementia,” he says “But what nobody’s really done prospectively is look at whether, if you took on some of these risk factors, whether that would actually make a difference in terms of risk of developing the condition.
“This will be probably the first study to test that at a population level.”
Visit this website to find out more about the project.