Research

Preventing Dementia

Preventing Dementia

Researchers at Newcastle University, working with Cambridge and Nottingham, suggest that prevention rather than cure is the solution to the dementia time bomb facing our rapidly ageing population.

Rates of dementia in the UK have fallen substantially over the past two decades, according to the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS). The study compared the prevalence of dementia in two large samples over the 20 year period.

The latest phase of the study, published in The Lancet indicates there are currently around 670,000 people with dementia in the UK, much lower than the previous estimate of over 800,000 predicted in the early 1990s.

Louise Robinson
Photo of Professor Louise Robinson

Proved Dementia is preventable

‌The CFAS study, involving over 13,500 people aged 65 years and over, was the first to prove that age was the single most important risk factor for dementia – the older we got, the more likely we were to get dementia.

From the first study, the team predicted that 8.3% of the general population would be expected to have dementia by 2011. Yet, following the introduction of health strategies informed by the research, in the follow up study in 2009 this figure was found to be much lower, at 6.5%.

Professor Robinson, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and a GP in the city for 20 years, said: 'Dementia continues to pose a significant challenge to our healthcare systems and communities but while others have been seeking ways to treat it we have established that prevention could actually be the new cure. Our latest studies show rates of dementia are substantially lower than the predictions we made in the 1990s based on our ageing population.'

Video: Preventing dementia

Informed health improvements

‌'We suspect that these improvements are largely due to primary prevention strategies to reduce vascular risk and improvements in care initiatives that were informed by our work.

The public health approach to promoting ‘healthy heart, healthy mind’, is not only preventing heart attacks but also dementia and we plan to build on these promising results.'

People walking on a beach
Healthy heart, healthy mind approach is key to dementia prevention

Research paper of the year

The follow up to the original CFAS paper, recently earned Professor Robinson and the CFAS team the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Neurology and Mental Health research paper of the year.

Professor Robinson’s research has shaped high level policy such as the Prime Minister’s 2012 Challenge on Dementia. It has also helped improve NHS services to provide a more timely diagnosis and raised the quality of care for those living with the condition.

Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England's National Clinical Director for Dementia commented that "Joint research from Newcastle, Cambridge and Nottingham, into the factors which influence the prevalence and earlier diagnosis of dementia has been instrumental in shaping UK national policy and practice."

Discover More

  • Study suggests dementia risk in the UK is going down - read the BBC’s coverage
  • Professor Robinson led the development of the Dementia Roadmap, a new online resource, launched by the Royal College of General Practitioners to help dementia patients and carers access local support
  • As Lead Primary Care Advisor, Professor Robinson contributed to the Prime Minister’s National Dementia Challenge, an ambitious programme designed to make a real difference to the lives of people with dementia, their families and carers
  • In recognition of her work on improving community-based dementia care, Professor Robinson was awarded the William Farr Medal by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
  • Professor Robinson led the successful bid that saw Newcastle University selected to join the National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research, having been commended for its focus on ageing primary care-related research
  • Read Professor Robinson's full list of publications and research interests

Contact Information

Professor Robinson
Email: a.l.robinson@ncl.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7013