Maintaining cognitive health

Our research contributes to emerging knowledge about the potential for preventing, delaying or reducing the risk of developing age-related cognitive disability and dementia. In our observational studies we focus on the role of personal and lifestyle factors associated with cognitive reserve and resilience against brain pathology, and on the social and psychological processes that influence lifestyle choices and the potential for behaviour change.

As collaborators in the Cognitive Function in Ageing Wales Study (CFAS-Wales) and part of the CFAS study group and CFAS Doctoral Training College, we are able to examine the influence of these factors in a large population-representative cohort of older people. Recently in the BANC study we have also examined the cognitive effects of bilingualism. Findings from observational studies inform the development of behaviour change interventions for primary and secondary prevention of dementia, such as the Agewell study conducted with healthy older people and the INDIGO trial of physical exercise for sedentary individuals with MCI. We are developing our work on cognitive health as part of the Centre for Research Excellence in Cognitive Health, led by the Australian National University, Canberra.

Current projects

We are collaborating in INDIGO, an Australian randomised controlled trial of a physical activity intervention for sedentary older people at risk of cognitive decline, based on individual goal-setting and supported by volunteer mentors, led by Professor Nicola Lautenschlager at the University of Melbourne.

Key publication to dateProtocol (open access)

Contact: Professor Linda Clare (L.Clare@exeter.ac.uk)

PROTECT is supported by funding from NIHR, Alzheimer Society, Moulton Foundation, philanthropic support and commercial partnerships. The PROTECT programme is an on-line cohort study for people over 50 focussing on cognitive and mental health, with opportunities to participate in nested clinical trials and with most participants donating DNA to the research programme.  We currently have more than 25,000 participants, with more than 20,000 people taking part in clinical trials of a variety of on-line interventions focussing on different approaches to cognitive training.  New trials commencing shortly will include physical exercise and trial of vitamin D to delay or prevent dementia in people with early cognitive impairment. Evidence based brain training and breaking news re dementia research internationally is available free of charge to participants.

Contact: admin@protectstudy.org.uk

We are currently working with our external collaborators Professor Kaarin Anstey, Professor Nicola Lautenschlager and Dr Sarang Kim on the Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Cognitive Health project. Our research focuses on the prevention of dementia by trying to understand how we can support people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, e.g. exercise regularly, eat healthily and engage in social and cognitive activities. To be more specific, we are exploring different potentially modifiable determinants of health-related behaviour change, including beliefs about prevention of dementia hold by patients (Barbora Silarova) and health care professionals (Rachel Collins) and more recently developed concept of awareness of age related changes (Serena Sabatini). The work will involve developing an intervention focusing on supporting middle aged and older individuals to make positive lifestyle choices with the aim to easily deliver the intervention within National Health Service (NHS) setting.  

Contact:

Professor Linda Clare (L.Clare@exeter.ac.uk)
Dr Rachel Collins (R.A.Collins@exeter.ac.uk)
Serena Sabatini (ss956@exeter.ac.uk)

Completed projects

The AgeWell study, carried out in partnership with Age Cymru Gwynedd a Môn, made it possible to establish an AgeWell Centre in Nefyn, Gwynedd, and to investigate how best to help people make the most of this resource to promote health and well-being. This study was funded by the Medical Research Council through the Lifelong Health and Well-being Programme. A report of the findings can be found here.

Key publicationBMC Psychiatry (open access)

The Bangor Goal-Setting Interview was developed for this study, an updated Version 2 can be found at the bottom of the publications and resources section of the website.

ContactProfessor Linda Clare (L.Clare@exeter.ac.uk)

The BANC study aimed to find out whether being bilingual helps to prevent or delay the onset of cognitive impairment and dementia, and to consider why this might be and how the insights gained could be used to help those who do not naturally have this advantage. Three groups of people were included in the study, people with dementia, people with Parkinson's disease, and healthy older controls. This study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Key publications: DementiaParkinson's (open access), healthy older peoplecognitive reserve in Parkinson's

Summary findings available in English or Welsh.

Contact: Professor Linda Clare (l.clare@exeter.ac.uk) or Dr Anthony Martyr (a.martyr@exeter.ac.uk)

This project investigates psychological and social factors that contribute to cognitive reserve in later life as part of the ESRC-funded CFAS Wales study (Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales), led by Professor Bob Woods, in which we collaborate.

Dr Isobel Evans for her PhD project aimed to determine whether social relationships contribute to the maintenance of cognitive health in later life. We aimed to understand whether being socially engaged in later life enhances cognitive reserve and contributes to the maintenance of cognitive function.

Key publications: Systematic review, living alone, social isolation

Contact: Professor Linda Clare (L.Clare@exeter.ac.uk)