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Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project

Contact person: James Vickers

Project summary:

There is substantial international interest in the potential for mental stimulation to provide a protective influence on the trajectory of ageing-related cognitive decline and risk of dementia. While there is significant epidemiological evidence for a protective effect of early-life education for protection against dementia, there is little direct evidence indicating that later life purposeful 'brain exercise' can protect from developing dementia and age-related cognitive decline through enhancing cognitive reserve.

The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project (THBP) is a collaborative world-first study between the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre and the University of Tasmania. The study aims to determine if tertiary education later in life reduces age-related cognitive decline and significantly decreases risk, or delays onset, of dementia.

Over the initial 10 years of the THBP, research has indicated that later-life tertiary education improved cognitive test performance in the THBP irrespective of age and that further education triggered improvements in cognitive reserve.


  • To examine whether participation of older adults in University education modifies subsequent ageing-related cognitive decline.
  • To determine whether later-life university education, increased socialisation, lifetime mental activity, decreases in depressive symptomatology, or increased quality of life are the critical factor in reducing age-related cognitive decline.
  • To determine whether genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's disease mediate or modulate any beneficial effect of later-life university educational enhancement on age-related cognitive decline.
  • To determine if genetic polymorphisms linked to cognitive performance and brain plasticity contribute to cognitive reserve and/or effects of late-life education.
  • To ascertain if increasing the cognitive reserve of older adults results in a significantly decreased risk, or delayed onset, of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

Research Team:


  • Aidan Bindoff (Statistician and PhD Candidate)
  • Gongbu Pan (PhD Candidate)
  • Kim Kennedy (Administration)
  • Jo Savage (Research Assistant)
  • Kerri Magnussen (Research Assistant and PhD Candidate)
  • Manuela Pietzuch (PhD Candidate)


This project is funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) Project grant (2011-2021).


  • Ward DD, Summers MJ, Valenzuela MJ, Srikanth VK, Summers JJ, et al., 'Associations of later-life education, the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism and cognitive change in older adults', The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease, 7, (1) pp. 37-42. ISSN 2274-5807 (2020) 10.14283/jpad.2019.40
  • Pietzuch M, King AE, Ward DD, Vickers JC, 'The influence of genetic factors and cognitive reserve on structural and functional resting-state brain networks in aging and Alzheimer's disease', Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11 Article 30. ISSN 1663-4365 (2019) 10.3389/fnagi.2019.00030
  • Thow ME, Summers MJ, Saunders NL, Summers JJ, Ritchie K, et al., 'Further education improves cognitive reserve and triggers improvement in selective cognitive functions in older adults: the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project', Alzheimer's and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring, 10 pp. 22-30. ISSN 2352-8729 (2018)  10.1016/j.dadm.2017.08.004
  • Summers MJ, Thow ME, Ward DD, Saunders NL, Klekociuk SZ, et al., 'Validation of a dynamic measure of current cognitive reserve in a longitudinally assessed sample of healthy older adults: The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project', Assessment, 26, (4) pp. 737-742. ISSN 1073-1911 (2017) 10.1177/1073191116685806
  • Summers MJ, Saunders NLJ, Valenzuela MJ, Summers JJ, Ritchie K, et al., 'The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project (THBP): a prospective longitudinal examination of the effect of university-level education in older adults in preventing age-related cognitive decline and reducing the risk of dementia', International Psychogeriatric, 25, (7) pp. 1145-1155. ISSN 1041-6102 (2013)  10.1017/S1041610213000380