The world’s population is ageing, and older age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. The number of people living with dementia is set to triple by 2050. Dementia is caused by an underlying disease, such as Alzheimer’s, in the brain. These are progressive diseases that start slowly. In the final stages, people need 24-hour care. As yet, there is no cure.
Most people think of dementia as a disease of old age. But, we know that certain risk factors are important across our entire lives. Around one third of dementia cases can be attributed to modifiable factors. That means, these are factors we can do something about. Vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity increase the risk of dementia. So, too, do lifestyle factors such as smoking, how much alcohol we drink, diet and physical inactivity. The more cognitively stimulating our lifestyle is, the lower our chance of dementia.
With no known cure, the best way to try and reduce the number of people who will be living with dementia is by targeting prevention.
How do we educate people that there are certain things they can do to reduce their chances of getting dementia? What are the best ways to raise awareness of the risk factors and help people change their behaviours?
Dr Maree Farrow is a cognitive neuroscientist and the Senior Academic Lead for Dementia MOOCs at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre. Her research focus is learning better ways to educate people in the community about how they can reduce their risk of dementia.
Dr Farrow looks at evidence provided by international research to ascertain what people can do to reduce risk. Her role is to educate the public on the state of that evidence. This means delivering the most accurate information, in the best way possible, to the right people. Dr Farrow is interested in what resources are needed to change people’s behaviour towards better brain health, and how to measure success.
‘In Australia today, we estimate that around 450,000 people have dementia and that number will double by 2050. That’s a huge increase,’ says Dr Farrow. ‘But the current global estimate of 50 million is set to skyrocket to 152 million by 2050. It’s extremely concerning. I just don’t think governments around the world are ready for it.
‘I know, and experts in the field know, that at a population level we could prevent around one third of dementia cases. We also know the health and lifestyle factors people need to change in order to reduce their risk of dementia,’ she explains. ‘The problem is, many of the general public don’t know this. Through education, we could achieve a drastic reduction in the future impact of dementia.’
Alzheimer’s starts gradually and damages the brain over time. ‘It takes around twenty years for the first symptoms to emerge. If people can minimise risk factors and keep the brain stimulated, they’re building up a reserve that helps protect against damage and keeps the thinking processes working better for a longer period of time; the onset of dementia will be delayed.’
Dr Farrow and her team have designed a massive open online course (MOOC) called Preventing Dementia. It is open for anyone around the world to enrol in and 66,000 people have enrolled in the past few years.
‘We will get more people to reduce risk factors if we can design strategies for different people,’ explains Dr Farrow. ‘My dream is to have a suite of resources for people to choose from depending on their needs. And, to have health professionals more informed about dementia in general so they can direct patients to the right resources.
‘Right now, prevention is all we’ve got. It’s an issue that affects real people and their lives. And, it’s an issue we can do something about. I’ve made it my personal mission to help people learn more about it.’
Dr Maree Farrow is the Senior Academic Lead for Dementia MOOCs with the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, and a cognitive neuroscientist. Maree’s current research interests include community education about dementia risk reduction, timely diagnosis and early intervention for cognitive impairment, and knowledge translation. She has a number of national and international research collaborations in these fields. Maree has developed and evaluated a range of resources and eHealth tools for community education about dementia and risk reduction, including Alzheimer’s Australia’s BrainyApp and the Wicking Centre’s Preventing Dementia Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
Before joining the University of Tasmania in 2015, Dr Maree Farrow was a Research Fellow at Alzheimer’s Australia in Melbourne. There she led a research program funded by the NHMRC Dementia Collaborative Research Centres to develop and evaluate community education resources for dementia risk reduction. Maree contributed substantially to developing the world’s first publically funded dementia risk reduction campaign, Your Brain Matters, and a smartphone application, BrainyApp, which has had more than 300,000 downloads and won a 2012 Victorian Public Healthcare Award for healthcare innovation. Maree’s work at Alzheimer’s Australia followed research positions based in Melbourne at the Howard Florey Institute, Monash University and Swinburne University of Technology. These roles involved managing NHMRC funded research projects, supervising Honours and PhD students, and developing and delivering research training programs. Research conducted included examining cognitive function and dysfunction in normal ageing, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, using neuropsychological and brain imaging methodologies. At the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, Maree worked as a Lecturer in the Bachelor of Dementia Care before taking up the role of Senior Academic Lead – Dementia MOOCs.
Date of award
Brain electrical activity topography in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Swinburne University of Technology
BAppSc (with distinction)
Swinburne University of Technology
Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
Swinburne University of Technology
International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment
International Research Network on Dementia Prevention
Dr Maree Farrow has managed all aspects of large research projects including participants and data. She has run postgraduate student training programs and staff professional development programs. She has organised symposia and served on conference organising committees. She managed the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation Victoria for three years.
Dementia prevention; Dementia interventions; Dementia care; Alzheimer’s disease; Mild cognitive impairment
Dr Maree Farrow taught in the Bachelor of Dementia Care at the University of Tasmania, coordinating units in dementia palliation, prevention and therapies. She previously taught undergraduate biophysics and postgraduate cognitive neuroscience research techniques. She has designed and implemented postgraduate student training programs in cognitive neuroscience, staff professional development programs in dementia, and postgraduate lectures in dementia interventions. With colleagues at the Wicking Centre she developed the Preventing Dementia MOOC (massive open online course) which launched in 2016 and has attracted over 26,000 participants.
Dr Maree Farrow is the Senior Academic Lead for the Preventing Dementia MOOC (http://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/preventing-dementia) and the Understanding Dementia MOOC (http://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/understanding-dementia).
Brain health and ageing
Physical activity for cognitive health and dementia prevention
Evaluation of public health resources for dementia risk reduction
Cognitive interventions for mild cognitive impairment and dementia
Dementia diagnosis and management
Dr Maree Farrow’s research aligns to the University’s research theme of Better Health. Her research interests include risk reduction, early diagnosis and interventions for dementia, which is the leading cause of disability burden in older people. The prevalence of dementia is increasing with the ageing of the population and there is currently no cure. Preventative measures addressing modifiable risk factors could have a significant impact on dementia incidence. Maree’s research has identified a lack of knowledge in the community about risk factors for dementia and the potential for risk reduction. Resources developed by Maree and her collaborators aim to raise awareness and enable people to improve their brain health and modify their dementia risk profile, including the Wicking Centre’s Preventing Dementia MOOC (massive open online course). Online and smartphone modalities are used to maximise the reach. Maree’s research involves evaluating the impact of these tools on knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, as well as their acceptability to consumers. Such tools allow people to assess their individual dementia risk profile and be guided to evidence-based information and resources to help them address the risk factors applicable to them. Structured and individually tailored interventions are also being trialled by Maree and her collaborators in Australia and the UK. The rising prevalence of dementia also has implications for diagnosis and management. Evidence is accumulating for the benefits of earlier diagnosis and intervention to enable forward planning and maximise quality of life. Maree and colleagues in Melbourne are researching the effectiveness of cognitive rehabilitation and strategy training interventions to enhance cognitive abilities and quality of life in people living with mild cognitive impairment. Many cases of mild cognitive impairment progress to dementia, and such interventions may help delay the onset or reduce the impact of early dementia. Maree and colleagues in Brisbane are researching the implications of timely diagnosis of dementia for consumers, their families and general practitioners. There is an average delay of two to three years between onset of dementia symptoms and receiving a diagnosis, delaying medical treatment and access to services and support for patients and families. Timely diagnosis may prevent a crisis, facilitate adjustment and provide access to a range of treatments and services.
Dr Maree Farrow is involved in several collaborative projects. She works closely with the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing at the Australian National University on several projects investigating tools, interventions and education programs aimed at assisting Australians to reduce their dementia risk. Maree is an Associate Investigator in the NHMRC funded Centre of Research Excellence in Cognitive Health: Evidence, intervention and population modelling, involving collaborators from Australia, the UK and the USA. She is also working with researchers at University College London in the UK to evaluate an eHealth intervention for middle-aged people with vascular risk factors for dementia. Maree works with colleagues from the University of Queensland on projects investigating benefits, risks and barriers for timely diagnosis of dementia. She has recently worked with colleagues from La Trobe University and Monash University in Melbourne on projects evaluating the implementation and effectiveness of cognitive rehabilitation programs for people living with mild cognitive impairment or early dementia. She has also worked with researchers at Victoria University in Melbourne on projects investigating the benefits of physical activity for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Evaluation of user experiences of an online Alzheimer’s disease risk assessment tool http://www.dementiaresearch.org.au/index.php?option=com_dcrc&view=dcrc&layout=project&Itemid=144&pid=231
Does lifestyle risk of Alzheimer’s disease correlate with memory performance? http://www.dementiaresearch.org.au/index.php?option=com_dcrc&view=dcrc&layout=project&Itemid=144&pid=279
Evaluation of eHealth tools for dementia risk reduction
Knowledge translation: dementia prevention and early diagnosis in primary practice http://www.dementiaresearch.org.au/index.php?option=com_dcrc&view=dcrc&layout=project&Itemid=144&pid=282
The benefits/risks of timely diagnosis of dementia http://www.dementiaresearch.org.au/index.php?option=com_dcrc&view=dcrc&layout=project&Itemid=144&pid=234
Fields of Research
- Neurosciences (320999)
- Aged health care (420301)
- Mental health services (420313)
- Preventative health care (420605)
- Health promotion (420603)
- Neurology and neuromuscular diseases (320905)
- Bioethics (500101)
- Central nervous system (320903)
- Psychiatry (incl. psychotherapy) (320221)
- Cell neurochemistry (310104)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public health and wellbeing (450417)
- Social psychology (520505)
- Behavioural neuroscience (520202)
- Community and primary care (420503)
- Public health nutrition (321005)
- Health services and systems (420399)
- Cognition (520401)
- Medical ethics (500106)
- Exercise physiology (420702)
- Ethical use of new technology (500103)
- Community child health (420601)
- Clinical health (200199)
- Health related to ageing (200502)
- Health education and promotion (200203)
- Behaviour and health (200401)
- Mental health (200409)
- Provision of health and support services (200399)
- Health status (incl. wellbeing) (200407)
- Bioethics (130301)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status and outcomes (210302)
- Expanding knowledge in the health sciences (280112)
- Evaluation of health and support services (200299)
- Nutrition (200410)
- Health inequalities (200204)
- Technological ethics (130305)
- Neonatal and child health (200506)
- Religion (130599)
- Social structure and health (200207)
- Preventive medicine (200412)
Dr Maree Farrow has published 35 peer-reviewed journal articles and a book chapter. Recent publications have included articles on her research evaluating eHealth tools for dementia risk reduction, published in JMIR Mental Health and JMIR Research Protocols. She has also written 10 reports for Alzheimer’s Australia, including comprehensive literature reviews on dementia risk reduction, the benefits of physical activity for brain health, and lifestyle interventions for dementia. She has presented her research findings at national and international conferences, including the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2010, 2014 and 2017. Maree regularly reviews articles for journals including the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Journal Article(17 outputs)
|2021||Bartlett L, Brady JJR, Farrow M, Kim S, Bindoff A, et al., 'Change in modifiable dementia risk factors during COVID-19 lockdown: the experience of over 50s in Tasmania, Australia', Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions ISSN 2352-8737 (In Press) [Refereed Article]|
Co-authors: Bartlett L; Brady JJR; Kim S; Bindoff A; Fair H; Vickers JC; Sinclair D
|2020||Alty J, Farrow M, Lawler K, 'Exercise and dementia prevention', Practical Neurology, 20, (3) pp. 234-240. ISSN 1474-7758 (2020) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 4
Co-authors: Alty J; Lawler K
|2019||Levy F, Pipingas A, Harris EV, Farrow M, Silberstein RB, 'Continuous performance task in ADHD: Is reaction time variability a key measure?', Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 14 pp. 781-786. ISSN 1176-6328 (2019) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 6Web of Science - 6
|2017||Regan B, Wells Y, Farrow M, O'Halloran P, Workman B, 'MAXCOG - Maximizing Cognition: a randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of goal-oriented cognitive rehabilitation for people with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer Disease', American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25, (3) pp. 258-269. ISSN 1064-7481 (2017) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 22Web of Science - 17
|2017||Silberstein RB, Levy F, Pipingas A, Farrow M, 'First-dose methylphenidate-induced changes in brain functional connectivity are correlated with 3-month attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptom response', Biological psychiatry, 17 pp. 679-686. ISSN 0006-3223 (2017) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 8Web of Science - 8
|2016||Ng KKW, Martin-Khan M, Farrow M, Beattie E, Pachana NA, 'The implications of the timing of diagnosis of dementia on the dementia caregiver', Advances in Alzheimer's Disease, 5, (4) pp. 143-154. ISSN 2169-2467 (2016) [Refereed Article]|
|2016||Silberstein RB, Pipingas A, Farrow M, Levy F, Stough CK, 'Dopaminergic modulation of default mode network brain functional connectivity in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder', Brain and Behavior, 6, (12) Article e00582. ISSN 2162-3279 (2016) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 16Web of Science - 15
|2016||Silberstein RB, Pipingas A, Farrow M, Levy F, Stough CK, et al., 'Brain functional connectivity abnormalities in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder', Brain and Behavior, 6, (12) Article e00583. ISSN 2162-3279 (2016) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 10Web of Science - 10
|2014||O'Connor E, Farrow M, Hatherly C, 'Randomized Comparison of Mobile and Web-Tools to Provide Dementia Risk Reduction Education: Use, Engagement and Participant Satisfaction', JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 1, (1) Article e4. ISSN 2291-5222 (2014) [Refereed Article]|
|2013||Addamo PK, Farrow M, Bradshaw JL, Moss S, Georgiou-Karistianis N, 'Characterizing the developmental profile of effort-induced motor overflow across a timed trial', American Journal of Psychology, 126, (2) pp. 227-34. ISSN 0002-9556 (2013) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
|2013||Farrow M, 'User perceptions of a dementia risk reduction website and its promotion of behavior change', JMIR Res Protoc, 2, (1) Article e15. ISSN 1929-0748 (2013) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 5
|2012||Georgiou-Karistianis N, Farrow M, Wilson-Ching M, Churchyard A, Bradshaw JL, et al., 'Deficits in selective attention in symptomatic Huntington disease: assessment using an attentional blink paradigm', Cognitive and behavioral neurology : official journal of the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology, 25, (1) pp. 1-6. ISSN 1543-3633 (2012) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 8Web of Science - 7
|2011||Addamo PK, Farrow M, Bradshaw JL, Georgiou-Karistianis N, 'Relative or absolute? Implications and consequences of the measures adopted to investigate motor overflow', Journal of Motor Behavior, 43, (3) pp. 203-12. ISSN 0022-2895 (2011) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 5Web of Science - 5
|2010||Addamo PK, Farrow M, Bradshaw JL, Moss S, Georgiou-Karistianis N, et al., 'The effect of attending to motor overflow on its voluntary inhibition in young and older adults', Brain and Cognition: Journal of Clinical, Experimental, and Theoretical Research, 74, (3) pp. 358-64. ISSN 0278-2626 (2010) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 16Web of Science - 15
|2010||Sritharan A, Egan GF, Johnston L, Horne M, Bradshaw JL, et al., 'A longitudinal diffusion tensor imaging study in symptomatic Huntington's disease', Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 81, (3) pp. 257-62. ISSN 0022-3050 (2010) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 51Web of Science - 50
|2009||Addamo PK, Farrow M, Hoy KE, Bradshaw JL, Georgiou-Karistianis N, 'A developmental study of the influence of task characteristics on motor overflow', Brain and Cognition: Journal of Clinical, Experimental, and Theoretical Research, 69, (2) Article 413-9. ISSN 0278-2626 (2009) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 9Web of Science - 9
|2009||Hoy KE, Georgiou-Karistianis N, Farrow M, Fitzgerald PB, 'Neurological soft signs in schizophrenia: investigating motor overflow', World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 10, (4 Pt.3) pp. 763-71. ISSN 1562-2975 (2009) [Refereed Article]|
Citations: Scopus - 5Web of Science - 5
Conference Publication(4 outputs)
|2020||Bartlett L, Doherty K, Farrow M, Bindoff A, Kim S, et al., 'Poster - The island study linking ageing and neurodegenerative disease (ISLAND): a longitudinal public health research program targeting dementia risk reduction', 2020 Alzheimer's Association International Conference, 26-30 July 2020, Online (2020) [Conference Extract]|
Co-authors: Bartlett L; Doherty K; Bindoff A; Kim S; Eccleston C; Hill E; Alty J; King E; Vickers JC
|2020||Doherty K, Bindoff A, Farrow M, McInerney F, Vickers J, 'ID: 594 / OS18 - Building knowledge and understanding of dementia in aged care personnel: the understanding dementia massive open online course', 34th Virtual International Conference of Alzheimer's Disease International - Hope in the age of dementia - New science. New knowledge. New solutions, 10-12 December, Online, pp. 129-129. (2020) [Conference Extract]|
Co-authors: Doherty K; Bindoff A; McInerney F; Vickers J
|2020||Kim S, Farrow M, Bindoff A, Borchard J, Doherty K, 'ID: 434 - Is a massive open online course accessible and effective for everyone? Native vs non-native English speakers', 34th Virtual International Conference of Alzheimer's Disease International - Hope in the age of dementia - New science. New knowledge. New solutions, 10-12 December, Online, pp. 387-387. (2020) [Conference Extract]|
Co-authors: Kim S; Bindoff A; Borchard J; Doherty K
|2018||Farrow M, Doherty KV, McInerney F, Klekociuk SZ, Bindoff A, et al., 'Improving Knowledge and Practice through Massive Open Online Dementia Education: The Understanding Dementia and Preventing Dementia MOOCs', Alzheimer's Association International Conference, 22-26 July 2018, Chicago, USA (2018) [Conference Extract]|
Co-authors: Doherty KV; McInerney F; Klekociuk SZ; Bindoff A; Vickers JC
Other Public Output(2 outputs)
|2019||Landowski LM, Farrow M, 'Busting myths about dementia', ABC Radio Hobart - Afternoons with Helen Shield, 16 September 2019 (2019) [Media Interview]|
Co-authors: Landowski LM
|2015||McDowell C, Farrow M, 'Engage, Enable, Empower: Living a healthy lifestyle with dementia or mild cognitive impairment', Alzheimer's Australia, Canberra, Australia (2015) [Government or Industry Research]|
Grants & Funding
Dr Maree Farrow received several project grants from the NHMRC Dementia Collaborative Research Centres for her work into dementia risk reduction from 2010 to 2015. With her collaborators she has also received research funding from the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation Victoria, Bupa Health Foundation, the auDA Foundation, Victoria University and Swinburne University of Technology.
Maree holds a NHMRC Dementia Collaborative Research Centres project grant 2016-2017 for a project titled Assessing Alzheimer’s disease risk online: What is the relationship between risk factors and objective and subjective memory performance? The objectives of this research are to examine associations between risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, objective memory performance, and subjective memory complaints, and whether a memory task could enhance the validity of an existing online dementia risk assessment tool for use in community and clinical settings.
Number of grants
- This project aims to create an online memory strategy training intervention for older adults (Online Personalised Training in Memory Strategies for Everyday: OPTIMiSE). The project will also involve evaluation of OPTIMiSE with 150 older adults completing questionnaires assessing memory satisfaction pre and post the intervention. OPTIMiSE will be a free online 6-week course, of approximately 2 hours content per week. It will focus on improving knowledge about memory and effective memory strategies for everyday life.
- La Trobe University ($50,000)
- Grant-Research Focus Areas Grant Ready
- Administered By
- La Trobe University
- Research Team
- Pike K; Farrow M; Ellis K; Bryant C
- An ageing Australia will increasingly impact social, health and economic activity, as exemplified in complex disorders such as dementia. Obesity is also increasing at a rapid rate and is a major antecedent risk factor for a range of chronic illnesses. Both conditions will be a particular challenge for rural and regional communities as they have the highest rates of related risk factors and chronic illness, and also relatively reduced access to specialist medical services and preventative health programs. This proposal focusses on dementia and obesity in north-west Tasmania, developing innovative initiatives to manage and reduce risk of these conditions, which will reduce medical procedures overall including presentations to hospital. The program involves two major projects: the Island Study Linking Ageing and Neurodegenerative Disease (ISLAND) and the Critical Age Periods for Impacting Obesogenic Lifestyles (CAPITOL) study. The ISLAND study will involve a pragmatic clustered randomised controlled on interventions for major potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, including obesity, physical activity, diabetes, smoking, hypertension, depression and cognitive stimulation/education, most of which are antecedents to chronic illness. The CAPITOL study will facilitate a transdisciplinary professional network to build a community-specific, sustainable approach to supporting children and families in relation to physical health and wellbeing. This project will identify enabling contextual factors which influence engagement in healthy physical play practices; foster buy-in from families (at multiple entry points); improve school readiness (through enhancing outcomes for children (0-8 years) in the AEDC domain of physical health and wellbeing), and generate sustainable communities of practice. North-west Tasmania is an ideal test-bed to develop preventative health strategies that are relevant and scalable to other Australian rural and regional communities.
- Medical Research Future Fund ($2,400,000)
- Grant - Keeping Australians Out of Hospital
- Administered By
- University of Tasmania
- Research Team
- Vickers JC; Hills AP; Goldberg LR; Byrne N; Farrow M; Hughes RM; Klekociuk SZ; Ahuja KDK; Courtney-Pratt HM; Patterson KAE
- 2019 - 2021
- This project will investigate associations between the risk of developing Alzheimers disease dementia (assessed using the Australian National University Alzheimers Disease Risk Index), subjective cognitive decline and objective memory performance.
- Dementia Collaborative Research Centre ($7,630,628)
- Administered By
- Australian National University
- Research Team
- Farrow M; Klekociuk SZ; Ward D; Vickers JC; Anstey K; Ellis K
- 2010 - 2016
Dr Maree Farrow has supervised and mentored several PhD and Honours candidates in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, psychophysiology and psychology. She is seeking HDR candidates interested in research in dementia and ageing, including healthy ageing, dementia risk reduction, and early stage dementia interventions and services.
|PhD||The Effect of Dementia Risk Education Beyond Those Educated: Do improved knowledge, motivation, self-efficacy and behaviour spread throughout a community?||2018|
|PhD||Staying Connected: A positive approach to addressing loneliness and maintaining social connection in older adulthood||2019|
|PhD||Post-diagnostic Support in Australian Memory Clinics||2020|