Esther Aarts on MOCIA and prevention

Esther Aarts
There's a lot of potential for prevention in dementia
Esther Aarts

Esther Aarts is hoogleraar Voeding en Hersenen bij het Donders Instituut aan de Radboud Universiteit, en projectleider van het MOCIA-onderzoeksprogramma over gezonde leefstijl en gezonde hersenen.

As the number of older people in the population increases, cognitive decline (deterioration in thinking ability) will become a growing social problem. Current estimates say that about half of dementia risk can be linked to factors such as severe obesity, lack of exercise, hypertension and high cholesterol in middle age. In other words, factors we can influence with our lifestyle. So there is a lot of potential for prevention in dementia. Because there is no good treatment for it. That's why I think it's important to better understand what lifestyle changes work for maintaining a healthy brain, for whom it works and how. 

One such study is the MOCIA research program. MOCIA stands for 'Maintaining Optimal Cognitive function In Ageing'. The slogan "Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Brain" describes the goal of the MOCIA research program. Namely, to help people keep their brains as healthy as possible as they age by modifying their lifestyles. What can people themselves do to keep their memory and attention as healthy as possible? What is the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy brain? And what tools can people use to make healthy choices? MOCIA provides answers to these and other questions. Within MOCIA, various universities, social organizations and companies work together to combine knowledge and develop innovations. MOCIA is a public-private research program funded by NWO under the crossover program. 

I am the proud lead applicant and project leader of this multidisciplinary research program. My role within MOCIA lies in leading the project on the one hand, and on the other hand in the work package investigating underlying mechanisms. Using brain scans and biological measurements, in my group we are investigating which processes in the body are important for the positive effects of a lifestyle intervention on brain health.

Only through interdisciplinary research can we understand and prevent cognitive decline. With my research at the interface of biology, psychology and brain science, I want to contribute to this. To this end, I always seek collaboration with experts in other disciplines and with parties who actually implement the research in practice.