CRE Cognitive Health PhD Student wins award for dementia research

Thursday 2 February 2017

PhD student, Mitchell McMaster, has won the 2017 Phyllis Montgomerie Commonwealth Award from the Royal Commonwealth Society (ACT).  The award is for his work on a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to determine the effectiveness of a multidomain dementia risk reduction program for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Mitchell’s work is an extension and modification of an ongoing programme of research by the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing (CRAHW) – the Body, Brain, Life (BBL) Project.

Previous versions of this intervention have involved middle-aged, high dementia risk populations in a series of lifestyle interventions to reduce high risk factors for developing dementia.

“These populations included those people with known preventable risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, depression, low education, cognitive inactivity and physical inactivity,” said Mitchell.

This research has demonstrated that lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of developing dementia and has informed the development of tools like the Online ANU-Alzheimers’ Disease Risk Index (ANU-ADRI) to assist people in identifying risks and changing habits.

One of the difficulties for researchers is conducting trials that will demonstrate significant impacts over a short period of time.

This means that the identification of specific sub-groups for whom interventions may be most effective in preventing dementia, is a priority for researchers. 

One such sub group is those people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who will be the target group for this intervention.

“Not everyone with MCI will develop dementia,” said Mitchell.  “Only 10% convert to dementia annually, and 25% of the population with MCI will remit to normal cognitive status. If we look at this group over the longer term though, after 6 years about 80% have gone on to convert to dementia. This suggests there could be a “window” in which interventions might be effective” he said.

According to some researchers neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise itself throughout life to compensate for injuries and disease – appears to function sufficiently enough in this sub-group to change detrimental outcomes, and it may be that targeted research through intervention programs can help even further.

The Randomised Controlled Trial of Multidomain Dementia Risk Reduction for Mild Cognitive Impairment (BBL-MCI) that Mitchell is working on with colleagues from CRAHW is designed to do just that.

Mitchell is using the award funds to assist with active components of the intervention program like physical activity, diet and cognitive activity.

“It’s an exciting area of research that has a significant knowledge gap, so I am doubly thrilled that I’m not only  conducting this trial, but that the Phyllis Montgomerie Award recognises the social and financial impacts that our research can have on people all over the world,” he said.

Mitchell will receive the award at a ceremony and dinner on the March 16, during Commonwealth Week.

The award is made possible by a bequest to the Royal Commonwealth Society (ACT) from the late Mrs Phyllis Montgomerie OADM, a former President and Late Member, who died in 2011.

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