What proportion of dementia is preventable in the Australian population?

Project title: Prudent advice on the prevention of dementia: Translating best evidence, using the 45 and Up Study cohort data, on the proportion of dementia that might be preventable in the Australian population

Start date: August 2018

Estimate end date: June 2022

What is the issue?

Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, is one of the leading causes of death and disability in older Australians. By 2050, it is estimated that more than 1.1 million Australians will be living with dementia, costing around $6.6 billion per year. Since there is no way of curing dementia, it is important to prevent the condition and delay its onset.

Previous research has shown that addressing people’s diet, physical activity, smoking, harmful alcohol consumption and level of education could help prevent dementia. Given that dementia mainly affects older people, delaying the onset by targeting these modifiable risk factors could have a major impact.

Although we don’t have conclusive evidence that dementia can be prevented, our approach is similar to the early approach to the prevention of coronary heart disease. Providing prudent advice on likely risk factors may have specific benefits, can have broader benefits, and is unlikely to do harm.

How is the project addressing the issue?

The aim of the project is to model how modifying risk factors would impact on dementia outcomes, and to develop prudent preventive advice using best available evidence.

We will conduct a review of the literature to quantify the relative contribution of risk factors for dementia and identify additional documented risk factors.

We will also investigate dementia risks in the 45 and Up Study cohort. Using data from the cohort, we will identify participants with dementia diagnosed since recruitment to the study (n~ 9,000 people) and investigate whether lifestyle, social, economic, environmental and health risks are associated with their progression to dementia.

Using data from the 45 and Up Study cohort, and other relevant cohorts where possible, we will model the impact of varying the exposure to the various risks identified and estimate the proportion of dementia that could be prevented or delayed through modifying them.

Relevance of the project for policy and practice?

Targeted population level strategies to address the risk factors for dementia can reduce that risk and delay the onset and progression of dementia.

What are the expected outcomes?

This project will provide advice on the contribution of various risk factors for dementia in the Australian population and guide targeted population level strategies.

The project will deliver evidence briefs and other knowledge products that advise on the relative contribution of different risk factors to dementia progression in the Australian population and the likely impact of modifying these risks.

Project lead

Dr Martin McNamara, Sax Institute

Project team

Mr Luciano Melo, Sax Institute

Dr Xenia Dolja-Gore, Sax Institute

Tina Navin Christina, Sax Institute

Professor Henry Brodaty, UNSW Sydney

Professor Kaarin Anstey, UNSW Sydney

Former team member 

Mark Bartlett, Sax Institute

Dr Anita Goh, National Ageing Research Institute

Funding for this research has been provided from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF provides funding to support health and medical research and innovation, with the objective of improving the health and wellbeing of Australians. MRFF funding has been provided to The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre under the MRFF Boosting Preventive Health Research Program. Further information on the MRFF is available at www.health.gov.au/mrff.

September 2020

  • AIHW data is now ready to be provided.
  • Discussions with CHeReL have intensified so the AIHW can be linked with existing CHeReL datasets.
  • Continued engagement with stakeholders and the Scientific Committee.


  • We have approval to commence data analysis of CHeReL datasets
  • We are starting conversations with research institutes and advocacy groups in the field of ageing and quality of life and health improvement of older people to discuss their possible engagement in this work.
  • The project have received ethics approval to access the National Aged Care Dataset, which will be combined with NSW data (CheReL) to model the impact of the various risks of dementia.
  • We have developed a knowledge translation framework developed that is now ready for implementation
  • We have continued engagement efforts with stakeholders and the Scientific Committee
  • We have received most of the data required (45 and Up Questionnaires and NSW administrative data), and data from the AIHW is due the end of July 2020.