MedWalk strategy looks to stave off dementia

Friday, 25 June, 2021

MedWalk strategy looks to stave off dementia

University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers have announced they are confident that the Mediterranean diet — combined with a daily bout of exercise — can stave off dementia, slowing the decline in brain function that is commonly associated with older age.

Via the MedWalk Trial, a consortium of researchers* — including those at UniSA and Swinburne University — are exploring the health benefits of older people adhering to a Mediterranean diet and daily walking. The two-year, $1.8 million, NHMRC-funded study will recruit 364 Australians — aged 60–90 years, living independently in a residential village and without cognitive impairment — across 28 residential sites in South Australia and Victoria.

Lead UniSA researcher Associate Professor Karen Murphy said combining the dietary benefits of the Mediterranean diet with the health benefits of an exercise intervention could deliver significant benefits.

“Dementia is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday tasks. While it is more common in older Australians, it’s not a normal part of ageing,” Associate Professor Murphy explained.

“In Australia, around 472,000 people are living with dementia. Each year it costs the economy more than $14 billion, which is expected to balloon to more than $1 trillion over the next 40 years.

“While there is currently no prevention or cure for dementia, there is growing consensus that a focus on risk reduction can have positive outcomes. That’s where our study comes in.

“Early pilots of our MedWalk intervention show improved memory and thinking in a subgroup of older participants adhering to a combination of Mediterranean diet and daily walking for six months,” Associate Professor Murphy said.

“We’re now extending this study across a broader group of older Australians, using carefully designed behavioural change and maintenance strategies in the hope of substantially reducing the incidence of dementia across Australia.”

A Mediterranean diet is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish, while being low in saturated fats, red meat and alcohol.

The 24-month study will randomly assign residential community sites the MedWalk intervention or their usual lifestyle (the control group), so that all participants who live at one facility will be in the same group. Changes to diet and walking will be supported through organised and regular motivational, dietary and exercise sessions.

Chief Investigator Professor Andrew Pipingas, Head of Neurocognitive Ageing Research at Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, and said the trial is about trying to prevent the onset of dementia.

“As it’s extremely difficult to find a cure and treat those in the later stages of the disease, focusing our efforts on helping those at risk of developing dementia to stay healthy is one way to ensure Australians stay well in future,” he said.

*The partners involved in this study are: Swinburne University; the University of South Australia; Deakin University; La Trobe University; RMIT University; Murdoch University; Sheffield Hallam University, UK; University of East Anglia, UK; and University College Cork, Ireland.

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