Psychological interventions to tackle risk factors of dementia: Depression and anxiety

Research project: Mental health and other psychological therapy Outcomes; their relationship to Dementia Incidence in the Following Years (MODIFY): A data linkage and feasibility project.

Lead Investigator: Professor Marcus Richards & Dr Joshua Stott

  • Institution: University College London
  • Grant type: Project
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Amount: £378,208

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

‘Really important and of high priority to look into the relationship between mental health and dementia, specifically due to the large proportion of the population that suffer with mental health issues’.

Project summary

Anxiety and depression are known to be risk factors for dementia, although we don’t fully understand how treating these mental health issues affects the risk of dementia. This project aims to understand whether treating anxiety and depression using psychological therapy can contribute to preventing dementia.

The background

Evidence shows that approximately 35% of cases of dementia may be due to risk factors that are possible to change. Anxiety and depression have been identified as important factors as people who experience them are more likely to go on to be diagnosed with dementia. Research has highlighted several possible explanations as to how depression and anxiety may be linked with dementia, and the debate is still ongoing. However, the question of whether successfully treating anxiety or depression could help to prevent dementia is still unanswered. 

Loneliness, social isolation, lack of physical activity and alcohol use also increase our risk of developing dementia and that they may be improved through psychological therapies. However, similarly, we don’t know if treating these issues reduces the risk of dementia. 

What does this project involve?

The aim of the project is to investigate whether the number of people developing dementia can be reduced by using psychological therapy that addresses known risk factors. 

The researchers plan to create a data resource that links from the ‘NHS Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies’ (IAPT) services to electronic medical records of dementia diagnosis. Using this resource, they will be able to find out whether receiving successful treatment for anxiety and depression is associated with reduced risk of developing dementia.
They will also look into the possibility of measuring change due to other risk factors not treated in IAPT interventions, such as poor sleep, loneliness, isolation, physical inactivity and high alcohol use. If this is possible, it could lead to a further research into whether psychological therapy may help to prevent dementia by changing other risk factors of dementia.

How will this project help people with dementia?

The research will deepen our understanding of the links between mental health and dementia. If psychological therapies are shown to reduce our risk of dementia, this may lead to specific psychological therapies tailored to tackle this issue. 

It would also support the case for increasing availability of psychological therapies for older adults and reducing waiting times. This could help more people receive the care and support they need to reduce their risk of developing dementia. 

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