PROTECT study - Understanding causes of dementia

There are nearly one million people living with dementia in the UK. Prevention of dementia is a hugely important public health priority. There is now evidence that by managing high blood pressure and addressing lifestyle factors such as exercise, smoking and diet, dementia risk can be reduced. However, there is still much more we need to understand if we are to prevent dementia.

In collaboration with our patient and public involvement (PPI) groups and the University of Exeter, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre researchers developed the PROTECT platform to understand the causes of dementia, and as a tool for intervention studies aimed at preventing dementia and other cognitive problems in ageing.

Over 35,000 participants

PPI events and a successful BBC collaboration led to 18,000 participants enrolling in PROTECT after one week, and we now have 35,000 people (aged over 50 years).

Participants complete the specifically designed computerised cognitive assessment, FLAME. FLAME is sensitive to age-related cognitive decline, and it is currently being used in several public and privately funded trials. Using FLAME, we identified the importance of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems for cognitive decline, which provides exciting opportunities for prevention studies.

PROTECT during the pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic more than 7,000 PROTECT participants reported on the effects of the lockdown, showing how pandemic-related loneliness and decreased physical activity led to worsening mental health.

These findings were shared with the public through various media channels including radio and podcasts and contributed towards Public Health England's weekly COVID Wellbeing and Mental Health Surveillance report.

PROTECT has enabled us to recruit successfully nationwide for clinical trials with decisions on which interventions to prioritise guided by the PROTECT PPI group. For example, we found that a simple brain training intervention led to sustained and broad cognitive improvement, and we are currently testing the effects of Vitamin D supplements on cognitive function (VitaMIND).

PROTECT is growing internationally with a Norwegian platform allowing further international comparisons and more novel intervention studies to improve cognitive and mental health in older people.



Developing Resources for Research | Whole Person Care | National and International Collaboration | Improving Access and Uptake