Deakin University projects supported by Medibank’s new health research fund
26 August 2014
Deakin University health researchers will investigate the role of diet in preventing dementia and map the costs of treating mental health disorders thanks to funding from the Medibank Health Research Fund (MHRF).
The MHRF funding will support two projects: one is aimed at understanding the importance of a healthy diet in preserving cognitive function as we age; while the other will assess the treatment costs associated with common mental disorders – depression, anxiety and substance abuse. The results of both projects will provide valuable evidence to support public health and wellbeing policies and guidelines.
There is growing recognition of the important role a healthy lifestyle plays in maintaining cognitive function (such as making every day decisions, remembering and problem solving) and reducing the risk of dementia in older age. However the ideal diet for protecting cognitive function remains unclear. This is where a research team led by Dr Catherine Milte, an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, comes in.
"The number of Australians suffering with dementia is projected to double in the next 20 years. With no known cure, it is essential that we look at ways to prevent or slow down cognitive decline and increase our chances of living a long, healthy life," Dr Milte said.
"A healthy diet has been found to protect against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety, with some nutrients believed to play a role in preventing cognitive decline. Through our research we want to better understand the relationship between diet and cognitive function and ultimately come up with recommendations for the optimal diet to maintain and preserve cognitive function into old age."
It is estimated that 80 per cent of health problems in older age could be prevented or delayed by lifestyle changes in the 55-65 year age group. The researchers will therefore focus on the connection between the past diet of older adults and their current cognitive function.
"Our knowledge around the importance of a healthy diet for mental health across the lifespan, from learning and development in childhood to memory and mood in our later years is still growing, and this research will make a valuable contribution to our understanding," Dr Milte said.
Associate Professor Cathrine Mihalopoulos, a senior health economist with Deakin's Population Health Strategic Research Centre, will lead the project into the treatment costs associated with mental disorders.
"We will be comparing the service use and costs for common mental disorders – (depression, anxiety and substance abuse) using data from two community based mental health surveys undertaken in 1997 and 2007 and investigating how service use and costs may have changed in the 10 years between the two surveys," Dr Mihalopoulos.
"Having such details of any changes in resources used and treatment costs associated with these disorders will provide valuable advice to decision-makers regarding the trends in resources used and treatment costs associated with these disorders."