Dr Elsa Dent takes on Chief Investigator role for global health research collaboration

Health professional shows phone to elderly woman

The Torrens University mid-career researcher is involved in a new three-year study focused on improving cognition and reducing dementia risk in cardiovascular events.

Dr Elsa Dent, Senior Research Fellow, Research Centre for Public Health, Equity and Human Flourishing at Torrens University Australia, is a Chief Investigator on a recently funded study, joining a team led by cardiologist and researcher, Dr Quan Huynh, from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

International dementia research collaboration

The research is funded by a collaborative funding scheme supported by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED), as part of the NHMRC Joint International Scheme. The project, named ‘Reducing Cognitive impairment by management of Heart Failure as a Modifiable Risk Factor: the Cog-HF trial,’ was awarded $499,487 in funding. This collaborative dementia research scheme grant provides opportunities for Australia's newest and brightest scientists to collaborate with researchers in Japan on the shared challenge of dementia and heart disease.

Australian researchers will work with Japanese counterparts from Gunma University and Shinshu University to test the feasibility and effectiveness of an innovative model of care that will enable healthcare professionals to screen patients with cognitive impairment and heart failure.

Research into dementia is critical

Dementia has overtaken coronary heart disease as the leading cause of disease burden among Australians aged 65 and over according to a February 2023 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report. As life expectancy continues to increase in both Australia and Japan, this funding addresses key challenges for our ageing populations.

“Japan has over 6 million people who have dementia, 65 years and older. That's huge. It's a big strain on their healthcare system,” said Dr Dent. “38% of Japan’s population is over 65, well over a third of their population. In comparison, 16% of Australia’s population is over 65 – but that will continue to rise.”

“Australia might be where they are shortly because our population is expanding with increases in life expectancy and improved survival of other diseases. We're getting older, so we need to see what they're doing, see what works over there, and we'll apply it here as well.”

Improving the quality of life for older adults

“We want to have a good quality of life and there's very little research on keeping people functionally independent at home, increasing their physical function and keeping their minds working,” said Dr Dent.

“Reducing the dementia risk - it's very, very under-researched, and I think we need more research in that space, so I am pleased to be involved in this project.”

Improving the quality of life for older populations is the focus of Dr Dent’s primary research. Her review paper ‘Malnutrition in older adults,’ was published in The Lancet in January 2023 discussing the current evidence on the identification and treatment of malnutrition in older adults. This review identifies gaps between evidence and practice in clinical care and offers practical strategies to translate evidence-based knowledge into improved nutritional care.

An innovative multidisciplinary management program will be accessible and convenient for patients

Individuals with heart disease are at a significantly higher risk of cognitive decline and subsequent dementia following a cardiovascular event. By promoting exercise rehabilitation after cardiovascular events, the research aims to mitigate the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in this population.

The project incorporates a nurse-led disease management program and a digitally enabled cardiac rehab program. The latter involves using a mobile app allowing tailored individual exercise rehabilitation programs for patients to follow from their home base. The innovative use of technology through the mobile app enhances accessibility and convenience for patients.

“It's a multidisciplinary integrated project, through nurse-led support,” explained Dr Dent. “So, it's not just exercising, it’s nutrition, it's the medication, it's the social factors, post-discharge education on disease risks, telehealth monitoring, it's everything coming in together.”

How research success will change healthcare in Australia and Japan

“We think this research will transform the way health care is delivered to cognitively impaired people with heart failure and in turn, we think that will reduce dementia both in Australia and in Japan,” said Dr Dent.

If the program is effective then the researchers will advocate for policy change and guidelines in the management of the condition, and potentially wide-scale rollout and implementation of the program.

A beneficial opportunity to expand the research community

Dr Dent’s research is an example of the outstanding work that our multi-dimensional PHEHF Research Centre produces.

"Reducing the risk of dementia is a national priority," said Professor Paul Ward, Director of the Research Centre for Public Health, Equity and Human Flourishing (PHEHF) at Torrens University. "Our aim at PHEHF is to combat significant public health problems affecting our population, and dementia is one such example."

“Health is one of our institution’s research and teaching strengths and we are very pleased with Elsa’s achievements both with the Category 1 grant and the article in The Lancet,” said Professor Kerry London, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research at Torrens University Australia.

“This grant is a national recognition, and it also exposes her to an international network of experts in the field. It is world-class research and a fine effort from one of our promising research stars,” said Professor London.

This research is part of three expert teams sharing $1.5 million of NHMRC-administered funding to undertake research with Japanese collaborators into the causes of dementia and factors that may prevent or delay its onset.

Find out more about Centre for Public Health, Equity and Human Flourishing
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