Protecting brain health: supporting the search for a cure

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By Nathan Choat | Friday 13 October 2023

Last month, we launched our new campaign, Change The Ending. The campaign film turns the traditional fairytale story on its head, exposing the reality that right now, when it comes to dementia, there are no happily ever afters.

It’s hard-hitting, but it’s a story we have to tell. By raising awareness about the heartbreaking impact of this condition, we hope to highlight the vital importance of dementia research – and rally support for a cure.

 

 

That’s because Alzheimer’s Research UK exists to find a cure for dementia. We want to create a world where the condition can be overcome – most importantly through better diagnosis and life-saving treatments, but also by avoiding it altogether through effective prevention.

To help raise awareness of the fact that dementia is linked to preventable factors, in 2021, we launched Think Brain Health – a campaign to help people keep their brains healthy and reduce their risk of developing dementia in later life.

In this article, we’ll look more closely at how Think Brain Health supports our search for a cure, and find out about some of the most promising research going on in labs right now to help prevent dementia.

Think Brain Health and For A Cure

One day medical research will find a cure, and at Alzheimer’s Research UK, we’re making real progress. But because dementia is most strongly linked to our age and our genes – neither of which we can change – there’s no sure fire way to prevent it.

However, research has shown that up to 40% of dementia cases are linked to risk factors we do have some influence over. So right now, the most powerful thing all of us can do to reduce our dementia risk is take steps to protect our brain health.

 

Think Brain Health campaign logo

 

Our Think Brain Health campaign helps people do just that, playing an important supporting role in our mission for a cure. It translates scientific discoveries into practical tips, helping all of us give back to our brains by loving our hearts, staying sharp, and keeping connected to those around us.

Our research

We still have lots to learn about the factors that influence people’s dementia risk. But just like research into new treatments, breakthroughs in this field could be lifechanging.

Think Brain Health is informed by the Lancet Commission on Dementia prevention, intervention and care. This important study, first published in 2017 and updated in 2020, reviews all the available research into possible dementia risk factors to understand which ones are most strongly linked to the condition.

In 2020, the report identified 12 risk factors for dementia that we may be able to influence. These include hearing loss, smoking and high blood pressure. By doing our best to eliminate these risk factors, we can protect our brain health and help reduce our risk of dementia in later life.

 

Two scientists, one male and one female, talking in a lab.

 

Alzheimer’s Research UK is now supporting the Commission to develop their next report, which is set to be published next year. This promises to shed more light on the steps people can take to protect their brains.

In the meantime, our scientists are deepening understanding of what we can all do to reduce our dementia risk. The areas they’re exploring include:

  1. Hearing loss

Although not many people would think of hearing loss as something that could increase their risk of dementia, there’s a growing amount of research showing that it can. But there’s still lots to learn about the link between these two conditions. We’re helping to change that by co-funding several studies with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. These include an investigation by researchers in Manchester into whether hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia in itself, or whether both conditions are caused by another factor. Another study, led by a team at UCL, is looking at whether hearing aids can help reduce dementia risk in people who have hearing problems.

  1. Heart health and brain health

We’re funding a study, led researchers at UCL, into whether the things that influence heart health early in people’s lives can also impact their brain health later on. Certain factors in early life, including diet and exercise, can result in changes to people’s heart and blood vessels, increasing their risk of a heart attack in later life. The project we’re funding will investigate whether these factors may also contribute to early changes in the brain, increasing dementia risk. And these findings will help understand how people can improve both their heart health and their brain health, and how early changes need to be made to see the biggest benefits.

  1. Wellbeing

We’re also interested in finding out more about the relationship between mental wellbeing and brain function in dementia. Research has linked depression to an increased dementia risk, but we don’t yet know whether improving people’s mental wellbeing can help protect their brains against the condition. Using data from previous large scale studies and databases, a team at UCL is investigating this in more detail.

Towards a cure

These are just a few of the projects into dementia prevention being funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and our partners.

We also know that not all of the risk factors linked to dementia are things people can influence themselves. Some, such as air pollution, require wider government action. So as well as funding research into dementia risk and prevention, and running initiatives like Think Brain Health, we’re also campaigning for change at a societal level. Our recent Tipping Point report sets out some of the action we want to see – you can read it here.

Ultimately – whether it’s through funding research, raising awareness, or campaigning for change – when it comes to our search for a cure, treatments and prevention are two sides of the same coin. Together, they’re bringing us closer to a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

Join Dementia Research

Are you interested in taking part in dementia research? Whether you are living with dementia or not, you could play a crucial role in future studies and clinical trials. Find out more and register on the Join Dementia Research website.

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About the author

Nathan Choat