Background: Differences in the level of cognitive compromise between individuals following brain injury are thought to arise from underlying differences in cognitive reserve. The level of cognitive reserve attained by an individual is influenced by both genetic and life experience factors such as educational attainment and occupational history. The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project (THBP) is a world-first prospective study examining the capacity of university-level education to enhance cognitive reserve in older adults and subsequently reduce age-related cognitive decline and risk for neurodegenerative disease.
Methods: Up to 1,000 adults aged 50–79 years at the time of entry into the study will be recruited to participate in the THBP. All participants will be healthy and free of significant medical, psychological, or psychiatric illness. Of the participant sample, 90% will undertake a minimum of 12 months part-time university-level study as an intervention. The remaining 10% will act as a control reference group. Participants will complete an annual comprehensive assessment of neuropsychological function, medical health, socialization, and personal well-being. Premorbid estimates of past cognitive, education, occupational, and physical function will be used to account for the mediating influence of prior life experience on outcomes. Potential contributing genetic factors will also be explored.
Results: Participant results will be assessed annually. Participants displaying evidence of dementia on the comprehensive neuropsychological assessment will be referred to an independent psycho-geriatrician for screening and diagnosis.
Conclusions: The THBP commenced in 2011 and is expected to run for 10–20 years duration. To date, a total of 383 participants have been recruited into the THBP.