Dementia

Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is most common in individuals over the age of 65 years and becomes increasingly common with age, but it is not a normal part of ageing.

The most common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD) and Huntington’s disease. Symptoms include loss of memory, difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying, difficulty in performing previously routine tasks and personality and mood changes. Eventually those affected are unable to care for themselves and need help with all aspects of daily life. Each type of dementia has its own signature of symptoms and signs, and is caused by a specific type of pathology in the brain. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease typically presents with memory loss, whereas frontotemporal dementia leads to changes in personality and socio-emotional behaviour.

Dementia is the greatest cause of disability in Australians over the age of 65 years. Approximately 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia with an estimated global cost of US$1 trillion.1 Due to ageing populations, the number of people living with dementia is projected to more than triple by 2050.

RESEARCH FOCUS

  • PISA Study (Prospective Imaging Study of Ageing) of mid-life Australians including those with high and low genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease to discover biological markers of early neuropathology, identify modifiable risk factors, and establish the very earliest phenotypic and neuronal signs of disease onset
  • identification of genetic risk variants for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, the use of genetic epidemiology to identify causal mechanisms, and the use of gene expression data to detect regulatory variation underlying dementia
  • combining state-of-art neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques to understand changes to the brain and the body associated with dementia
  • building new models of the brain for dementia research (“brain on a chip” cell cultures), in particular to understand the role of the immune system, and blood-brain barrier, and identify new therapeutic compounds targeting the immune cells of the brain

ASSOCIATED LABS

SOURCES

  1. Livingston, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., (et al) (2020) Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 396(10248): 413–446.