Cognitive decline through normal aging to dementia and death: Identifying early risk factors and targeting effective interventions

The number of Canadians older than 65 is steadily increasing, a trend that will continue over the next few decades. The prevalence of age-related disorders such as dementia is also increasing, along with the related need for personal care and treatment. Cognitive impairment adversely affects quality of life in late adulthood, limiting independence and survival. To examine these important health issues, Dr. Stuart MacDonald is studying factors related to age-related declines in cognitive performance. Part of his research employs existing data from a Swedish study (the Kungsholmen Project; to examine patterns and identify early predictors of cognitive decline. As the average age of the Swedish population far exceeds that of Canada, research on the Kungsholmen data may provide important insights that can help inform Canadian healthcare policy and prevention strategies.

Dr. MacDonald is also researching how performance for select measures of memory and intelligence is influenced by cognitive training across a period of weeks, as well as regular aerobic exercise (walking three times per week for 30 minutes) over a period of months. Dr. MacDonald's goal is to clearly demarcate the stages and transitions of cognitive decline from mild age-related impairment to more severe dementia deficits. This will help identify early warning signs of cognitive impairment from a broad range of predictors. The findings could lead to more effective prevention based on knowledge of these risk factors, including campaigns to promote health-smart behavior.