In the same way that it is important to understand the specific ways in which a drug works on the body systems it targets, researchers developing non-drug treatments, including treatments focused on cognitive or mental activity (e.g., “brain training”), try to understand how and why they work or don’t work. Treatments that are developed with a clear theoretical framework, that have well-articulated essential and other “ingredients”, and well-defined targets are more likely to be effective for their intended outcomes.
The main interventions I have been involved in designing to date are listed below.
Reducing dementia risk in middle-aged adults: The Body, Brain, Life study
Several lifestyle factors in mid-life (for example, physical inactivity, deficient social networks, etc) have been associated with modified risk of dementia risk in late life. We also know that certain pathological/disease-related changes in the brain that often lead to dementia start appearing many years before people affected develop any detectable clinical signs. In the Body, Brain, Life (BBL) study, we evaluated an innovative intervention, delivered online, to assist middle-aged adults make meaningful changes to aspects of their lifestyle in the hope that this will lead to lower risk of dementia. You can read more about the study here. Status: completed
Reducing dementia risk in middle-aged adults at risk of dementia: Cognitive-Motor training using virtual reality
People with first degree relatives with dementia are at increased risk of developing dementia themselves compared with those without dementia in their family. In this exciting study, conducted in Israel, middle-aged people who have or had a parent with dementia train on a range of cognitive tasks within a virtual supermarket, while also walking on a treadmill. The tasks they are required to perform in the virtual supermarket involve thinking speed, attention, memory, and flexible decision-making. This treatment is being compared with other treatments in which participants either complete the training while stationary, or only walk on the treadmill without completing the cognitive training tasks. The virtual reality technology allows investigators to design training that more closely resembles everyday life challenges and numerous other virtual reality studies are currently underway. To learn more about this study (which is still ongoing), you can read the complete protocol here. Status: Ongoing
Improving cognitive abilities and mood in older people at risk of dementia using computerised cognitive training
Older people at risk of dementia due to mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or mood-related problems (e.g., depression) may benefit from repeated practice on well-structured game-like tasks on the computer. In the Canberra Computerised Cognitive Training Trial (Canberra CCT trial), we wanted to find out whether those who have both cognitive and mood-related problems are able to benefit from this type of computerised cognitive training approach.
Click on the links below to find out more about this study and its findings. Status: completed
March 21st 2014. “Games helping to treat dementia development”. Video story on Channel 9’s A Current Affair.
March 10th 2014. “ANU researcher Alex Bahar-Fuchs tackles dementia puzzle.” Article in the Canberra Times newspaper. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/anu-researcher-alex-baharfuchs-tackles-dementia-puzzle-20140309-34fl0.html
February 18th 2014. Alzheimer’s Australia Research Grants recipient. Interview with the Canberra Times
January 20th 2014. ABC 666 Drive with Adam Shirley – radio interview