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  • Writer's pictureMarie

Reducing the risk of dementia - uncovering the brain-body connection

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

One of my passions is listening to experts in their field. Once a month NeuRA (Neuroscience Research Australia) hosts different speakers. Last months subject was Maintaining Your Brain Health: Dementia - a subject close to my heart because my dad passed away from this and mum is currently going through this terrible disease.

Thoroughly enjoyed listening to Professor Kaarin Anstey is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Scientia Professor at UNSW, and a Senior Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA. She is Director of the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute, leads an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cognitive Health, is a director of the NHMRC Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration and Co-Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research and Dr Claire Shepherd - the Director of the Sydney Brain Bank at Neuroscience Research Australia. She trained in neuroscience and completed her PhD in Alzheimer’s disease at the University of Sheffield, UK. After completing her PhD she relocated to Sydney to pursue her interest in the neuropathology of dementia. Soon after her move, Claire was awarded the prestigious Rolf Edgar Lake Fellowship from the University of Sydney and subsequently directed a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant as CIA. In 2000 Claire was awarded the inaugural Franz Nissl Young Investigator Prize in Neuroscience in recognition of achievements in her early post-doctoral years. She now runs the Sydney Brain Bank, which is a research facility that collects, characterises and stores brain tissue for research into neurodegenerative disease. Claire is also the Director of the Shepherd Dementia Research Laboratory at NeuRA and lead investigator on the NeuRA Volunteers Brain Donor Program – a longitudinal research program aimed at investigating the clinical consequences of the cellular changes that occur during ageing.

Currently there are 1.6 million carers in Australia for Dementia and 400-470k people living with Dementia. This was the first year they mentioned dementia in the census because there is a growing need for gathering data on Australia and linking upcoming medicare needs and requirements to be more prepared in the future.

People wonder the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's, whereas dementia describes a group of symptoms corresponding with a decline in memory, reasoning and thinking; Alzheimers accounts for almost 80% of dementia cases. Alzheimers is not a normal part of the ageing process. The brain ages like the rest of the body and nerve cells which normally communicate with one another encounter connection challenges whereby the nerve cells lose their ability to communicate - hence the term "Use it or lose it". As the cells change, there can be an abnormal build up of plaque (beta-amyloid proteins) between the nerve cells. Also, tangles (twisted fibres of the protein tau) build up inside cells. Whereas its normally a single line protein it ends up looking like a ball of wool - it accumulates progressively and aggressively causing cells to die. There is no single test for Alzheimer's - it can only be diagnosed post mortem.

There is growing evidence with the research that early intervention can lead to a reduction in new cases. If you are over 65 and have concerns, then its never too late to get involved in a research study:

  • SHAPE - aims to test a new online training and support group for people in the early stages of dementia and e-leaning programme for care partners. Join the group to learn how to live well with dementia. Share stories and learn all about healthy lifestyle and coping strategies

  • MyCOACH - aims to test the effectiveness of an e-learning and behaviour change course designed to support healthy brain ageing and reduce risk of dementia. The course is tailored for people experiencing changes or concerns in thinking, memory or cognition. The trial runs for 12 weeks, with a follow up 1 year afterwards.

Changes in the hippocampus affects memory and the emotional and behavioural changes can start from sleep disorders. The evidence suggests that sleep disorders precede Alzheimers. The immune system and inflammation markers can be early detectors of the disease. There are so many factors to consider, familial, bio chemical and environmental.

There are many clinical trials (but not enough) and some drugs and treatments available on the market - some more controversial than others. The nervous system is a major player and whilst the disease process cannot be stopped certain medications can cause certain functional improvements. Whilst some drugs have been shown to remove the brain amyloid, there did not seem to be significant impact or improvement to memory and thinking. There is much controversy around the latest FDA drug approved "aducanumab". Clinical reviewers argued that aducanumab is likely to provide a cognitive benefit, whereas statistical reviewers said the data did not support approval. The risks do not outweigh the benefits and this approval saw 3 FDA members resign.

What is interesting is the role of inflammation in both the body and the brain and identifying the links. Some evidence points towards how inflammation in the brain can cause changes to inflammatory pathways in the body. Research is still looking into the relationship between the brain and body. People affected have a higher instance of auto immune disorders and the systemic immune problem could be a precursor or link to neuro degeneration.

What is causing the increase in the number of incidents of dementia? An ageing population or people living more unhealthy lifestyles? People are not dying because of dementia itself, its more losing the ability for self-care, feeding habits and maintenance of bodily functions to maintain health. The most likely cause of death ends up being pneumonia. Interesting identifiers are also helping with hearing aid statistics pointing to the fact that impaired hearing has a social impact and effect, reduction in use of ability for memory and thinking, points to the use it or lose it and so keeping pathways alert and functioning well and talking to each other has positive benefits. Early symptoms can decline at a slower rate if health changes are made when diagnosis is made. Increased education around better management of hypertension and better risk factors in heart disease and stroke can also have positive impacts.

Each country has different statistics and the decrease in incidents varies. Whilst there are some biological causes for Alzheimer's a collaborative and multi disciplinary approach is the way forward. Prevention is better than cure - so the best way forward is what each individual can do to reduce the risks. Learn to repair the damage as your age and build and maintain a healthy immune system. Below are the recommendations and guidelines that can at best avoid or at least defer dementia:

  • Activity is your friend - vigorous exercise, resistance training, daily 20-25 brisk walk

  • Diet and Nutrition - the mediterranean diet reduce's your risk over 5 years by 30%

  • Healthy Habits - Stop smoking, Reduce alcohol. Treat depression

  • Be mentally active - Brain training exercises and learn new skills

In a nutshell, you can start making some changes now - it's up to you to start making small changes, create more positive habits and take responsibility for your health.

Marie is a qualified Master Practitioner and Teacher in Face Reading, Psychosomatic Therapy and NLP. With more than 15 years of experience, Marie brings a unique blend of skill and discernment into these untapped spiritual disciplines. Marie offers inspirational insights into your inner self and personal potential. Reach out to Marie via

" My passion is to make a difference to people, empowering them to be their best. This can be achieved by increasing their self awareness,

and maintaining a bodymind balance."

Updated July 2023:

I was approached by a US law firm to share their article on dementia and driving and I know how hard it was to take my dad's driving license from him and to relocate the car so that he could no longer use it.

Dementia and driving can be complicated. Obviously as the condition worsens, those with dementia will have to stop driving. We thought this was important information, so we made a guide that detailed the laws behind dementia and driving, what are signs of unsafe driving, how to talk to a person about quitting driving, and how a person with dementia can still maintain some independence. Check it out:

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