THEY say the risk of dementia starts at conception, and every moment after determines the chances of developing the condition.
Now, a team of researchers from the University of Newcastle and the Brain and Mental Health program at HMRI is exploring how engagement in arts activities like music and dance can help keep the brain healthy and reduce age-related cognitive decline.
Professor Frini Karayanidis and Dr Michelle Kelly from the School of Psychology, together with Dr Helen English from the School of Creative Industries, are working to identify how community-based arts programs can be targeted to promote healthy ageing. They hope the research will help find a way to delay, or prevent, the onset of dementia.
"Most people age fairly well, and most people will maintain reasonable health and reasonable cognitive health by the time they die," Professor Karayanidis said.
"But then some people start on a downward slope - usually in their mid-50s, mid-60s. There are early changes. We become slower in responding, but then further, in the mid-70s, we start having some evidence of cognitive decline.
"Our aim with this work is to change that slope, and maintain people on the healthy slope for longer."
They are looking for people aged 60 and above across Australia to participate in a phone-based research project to identify the level of engagement in creative activities and its association with "cognitive and emotional wellbeing".
"Older people do tend to have more time, and tend to find their artistic inner selves, their creative inner selves," she said.
Dr English added that in her research to date, she had found when older people returned to creative activities they had pursued when they were younger they felt an "amazing sense" of fulfillment and purpose.
"We know these activities make people feel happy and active, but we don't know whether they have any short-term or long-term benefits on brain and mental health," Professor Karayanidis said.
"This very simple study is taking a pulse. It's asking people what types of physical or creative engagement they have done in their life, and then we also get a glimpse of their social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing. That will then allow us to identify the enablers and barriers to engagement."
They hope this pilot study will eventually allow the team to expand the project into a nationwide collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne, as well as the Hunter.
To find out more, or to get involved, call (02) 4921 7161 or email email@example.com.
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