12 December 2019
Kay Deckers wins Young Outstanding Researcher Award

Good brain health lowers the risk of dementia

UM researcher Kay Deckers was announced the first ever winner of the Young Outstanding Researcher Award, for the most promising dementia researcher. With this new prize, awarded by Alzheimer Nederland, the Dutch health foundation wants to keep young researchers in dementia research and to accelerate research into solutions for people with dementia and their caregivers. The research of neuropsychologist and epidemiologist Deckers focuses on the relationship between lifestyle factors and the chance of developing dementia. The young researcher received €100,000 - and he already knows how to use the money.

Kay Deckers has developed a model which can provide insights into people’s brain health. His "LIfestyle for BRAin health" (LIBRA) score consists of 12 protective and risk factors for dementia. In several large population studies, he has shown that people with these risk factors in middle age (40-75 years) are more likely to develop dementia at a later age. His research also shows that only half of the Dutch population knows that something can be done to reduce this chance.

How is your brain health?

The LIBRA score has also been used for the MijnBreincoach app, which he has co-developed. “This allows you to map your own brain health based on the 12 protective and risk factors. You choose the theme you want to work on. If you choose healthy food, you get "a note of the day"; one day a quiz question about healthy food, the next day a challenge. For example, "try to eat fish instead of meat for one day this week." We try to encourage people to change their lifestyle in a positive way. "It's never too late. With a healthy lifestyle you can generally lower the chance of dementia by 30-35%. I mainly want to focus on the positive. First show what people are doing well, and then show where there is room for improvement; that they can take small steps to keep the brain healthy. ”

New insights

"Researchers around the world are discovering that Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is more complex than expected and that the disease is caused by a combination of various factors. “I think that for too long we have exclusively focused on the amyloid-beta protein as the major cause of the disease. We now know that we have to explore other paths as well. There won't be a single pill in the future, I think, but a cocktail of medication combined with a healthy lifestyle that we should start taking from the age of 40 - the age at which we observe the first changes in the brain." But prevention is better than cure. “And that's why it's important that people know that the chance of getting dementia can be influenced. Many people still think that dementia is something that happens to you, or that it runs in the family. But they aren’t aware that less than 10% of the cases are genetically determined. The Alzheimer Center Limburg is at the forefront of research into prevention. Alzheimer Nederland will also focus more on this."

Protective factors are:

  • healthy diet
  • low to moderate alcohol consumption
  • mental stimulation

Risk factors are:

  • insufficient exercise
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • depression
  • being overweight
  • coronary heart disease
  • chronic kidney diseases

Brain health and GPs

Kay Deckers

“I want to develop teaching materials on dementia risk reduction, so that we can better inform general practitioners and practice assistants about brain health and how they can address it in practice. Personally, I don't think that much needs to be changed in general practice. People often come to check their cholesterol and blood pressure – at that point they should be informed of the benefits of lifestyle changes not only for their heart and vessels, but also for their brain health. I always say: what is good for the brain is also good for the heart!”

Campaigning

Deckers has given more than 25 public lectures in the past year and has found around140 partners who have supported the brain health awareness campaign We are the medicine. “I would like to roll out this campaign throughout the Netherlands. Via e-health and social media we can reach many people in a relatively affordable way. I think it is great that research can benefit society and ensure that brain health becomes more prominent in general practice. "

Keeping young talent in dementia research

Alzheimer Nederland has created the Outstanding Researcher Award to ensure that talented young researchers stay in the field. “An research project takes on average four to five years. If you don’t have a permanent appointment as a researcher, you must ensure funds and subsidies every five years to cover your salary and pay for new research. For this reason, a number of my fellow researchers have chosen to switch to industry, do clinical work or have gone abroad."

280.000!

There are currently 280,000 people with dementia in the Netherlands. That number is expected to double by 2050. The chance is 1 in 5 that someone will get the disease in his or her life. The chances increase with age. “We see that the total number of people with dementia is still growing considerably, but it is not going so fast. This is because nowadays there is good cardiovascular risk management in general practice and because the level of education has risen and people have started to live more healthily.

Kay Deckers
By: Joyce Larue