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The online tool doctors and patients are using to fight the risk of dementia

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney and Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have developed a new tool to assist general practitioners (GPs) and patients with concerns of dementia.

<p>(Source: Shutterstock)</p>

(Source: Shutterstock)

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney and Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have developed a new tool to assist general practitioners (GPs) and patients with concerns of dementia.

78 million people are expected to live with dementia by 2030, an increase of roughly 41.8% for the 55 million people living with dementia today.  

As the focus on dementia research pivots towards prevention, the CogDRisk (cognitive health and dementia risk assessment) tool, developed in 2022, has been evaluating the risk of dementia using a 20-minute survey.

The survey is able to provide participants with a personalised dementia risk report that they can hand off to their GP.

The team has used CogDRisk to evaluate success based on four existing datasets, with the results recently published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, with analysis showing that the tool can accurately predict dementia.

“There’s lots of information about the risk factors for dementia in the academic literature,” said Professor Kaarin Anstey from UNSW’s School of Psychology and NeuRA.

“But there’s a gap between just knowing the risks and actually being able to assess whether or not you have the risk, and then knowing what to do about it. CogDrisk was developed to address this.”

The academic shift towards dementia prevention comes as a result of unsuccessful clinical trials to try and treat the condition.

“Prevention is now recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the key areas of research. Alzheimer’s Disease International and most of the National Dementia action plans include dementia risk reduction,” says Professor Anstey.  

“So we did a systematic review, to get all the different risk factors for dementia – those which were robust, and those which were modifiable and could be assessed through a self-report instrument.”

Reaching a consensus on what dementia risk factors are has been difficult for researchers, although the team behind CogDRisk were able to combine proposed risks together using statistical methods, based on available studies.

Risk factors which may increase the risk of dementia include a lack of or inadequate physical activity (which is below that of Department of Health and Aged Care guidelines), smoking, poor diet and obesity or high blood pressure for middle age.

“That whole process took several years, we published the review, and then we had to develop the risk assessment tool itself.”

Through a dataset of over 9500 participants, from four different cohorts across existing medical studies, the risk assessment model which was created for the tool assessed a wider population, in order to review many demographics.

The overview of several demographics and the risks associated with dementia was able to give researchers a greater insight into what works overall, rather than just a subset of risk factors and how they match a small group of people.

“Our statistical analysis shows it’s a very robust and generalisable tool, it works across different countries and different data sets.

“It’s also quite comprehensive, it includes a lot of the newer risk factors that weren’t previously included.” 

Although the tool has been successful in predicting dementia, dementia itself isn’t quite as easy to pinpoint due to the strong genetic component and progressive development, which can span decades. 

“It’s a multi-causal disease, but there are some modifiable risk factors. Most people want to know what their risk factors are and want to do something about them once they know,” Professor Anstey added.

Development has been guided by the goal of assisting GPs and patients with risk reduction for an incredibly complex condition.

“Not only are there lots of risk factors, but dementia itself is very complex, and GPs are very busy. So we’re trying to develop ways of making it easier for the public and GPs to get the right information.”  

People over the age of 18 can complete the CogDRisk survey and receive a personalised report, with those over the age of 40 eligible to receive a risk assessment score and set up an account to track their progress through repeating the survey.

Tell us about your score on the Talking Aged Care Facebook page or what your thoughts are on the shift to technology.

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