In the world-first study, researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Swinburne University along with a consortium of partners are set to explore the theory that the Mediterranean Diet combined with daily exercise (daily walking) can stave off dementia.
Termed the MedWalk Trial, the two-year, $1.8 million NHMRC-funded study will recruit 364 older Australians aged 60-90 years, living independently in a residential village, without cognitive impairment – across 28 residential sites in South Australia and Victoria.
The 24-month study will randomly assign residential community sites to 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.
“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,” says lead UniSA researcher, Associate Professor Karen Murphy
“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 sub-group of older participants adhering to a combination of Mediterranean diet and daily walking for six months.
“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.”
Head of Neurocognitive Ageing Research at Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology and Chief Investigator, Professor Andrew Pipingas, says this 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.”