Dementia a numbers game

18 July 2019

Crunching the real numbers behind the ageing disease of dementia and taking a stand against it will lay the foundation for Australia’s future treatment approaches. 

Two research projects from The University of Queensland have been awarded funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to focus on risk reduction, prevention and tracking of dementia – Australia's second leading cause of death.

A team of biostatisticians from The University of Queensland and other Australian universities have been granted $2 million to improve Australia’s dementia statistics.

UQ Professor of Biostatistics Annette Dobson said the data would ensure health resources were primed to meet the needs of an ageing population.

“Currently, we don’t have an accurate estimate of the number of people in Australia who have dementia,” Professor Dobson said.

“The most important factor relating to dementia is increasing age. As the population ages, we expect the number of people with dementia to rise.

“However, what we are seeing is a decrease in the risk factors associated with dementia, such as cardiovascular diseases, smoking and hypertension.

“We need to find out if these factors might cause the incidence rate of dementia - the number of new cases per 1000 older people - to decline.”

Dementia and treatment services are thought to exceed $15 billion every year, but little is known about the true cost of the condition.

“It’s important to get a good grip on these numbers to know if the trends are going up or down,” Professor Dobson said.

“These figures have enormous implications on the services provided by the healthcare and aged care systems.”

Professor Dobson and her team will use data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to ensure the numbers are valid, reliable and most importantly – actionable.

“This will have a long-term benefit because these organisations are relied on as official sources and the results from our research will feed directly into them,” she said.

“This two-year project represents an important step in collaborative research between the University and these two health organisations.”

A second UQ project also received funding in the quest to make a stand against dementia – quite literally.  

Dr Paul Gardiner

Senior Research Fellow Dr Paul Gardiner will conduct a randomised controlled trial in office workers with Type 2 diabetes to study the effects of standing and activity levels on cognitive decline.

“This is going to focus on office workers who are middle-aged or older and look at whether sitting less and moving more impacts their cognitive function,” Dr Gardner said.

Two hundred and fifty people will be recruited into the study and will be given a sit/stand work station, use a wearable device to track their activity and have access to health coaching.

Dr Gardiner said it was in an attempt to help reduce dementia rates and provide a blueprint for simple but effective ways Type 2 diabetes could be managed.

“People will Type 2 diabetes have double the risk of developing dementia than the rest of the population,” he said.

“We believe one of the factors driving this could be prolonged sitting time and low physical activity at work.

“The study will also look at the mechanisms underlying this such as glucose and insulin levels, body composition, inflammation and neurogenic factor.”

The study is an extension of a Baker Institute initiative and involves partners from The University of Sunshine Coast and Enable Health Consulting and will be conducted over the next five years.

Media: Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5118, +61 436 368 746.