According to the World Health Organisation, the global population is ageing and it is estimated that there will be over 2 billion people aged 60 years and over by 2050. Dementia currently affects 50 million people worldwide and this is set to triple by 2050. Depression is the second leading cause of disability among older adults. Preventing or delaying the onset of these disorders should therefore be a public health priority. A number of health and lifestyle factors are linked with an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, including diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity and socioeconomic deprivation.
Notably, in a previous research study involving teams from Nutrition and Geography & Environmental Sciences at Ulster University, we showed that older people who live in disadvantaged areas across the island of Ireland were at greater risk of developing cognitive impairment than people in better off areas. Specific components in the diet have also been investigated in relation to brain health, with emerging evidence supporting protective roles for n-3 PUFA, polyphenols, vitamin D and B-vitamins. Evidence from this centre indicated that lower levels of B-vitamins were associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety in older people, whilst daily consumption of B-vitamin fortified foods (such as breakfast cereals) was associated with a 50% reduced risk of depression.
The aim of this PhD project is to investigate the impact of nutritional, environmental and socioeconomic factors on brain health in older people living on the island of Ireland. The project will utilise and build substantially upon the TUDA study - a large, all-island ageing and health cohort which provides extensive data on over 5000 adults of 60+ years across Ireland. The outcomes will contribute to the evidence linking nutrition with cognition and mental health in ageing.
Please note: Applications for more than one PhD studentship are welcome, however if you apply for more than one PhD project within Biomedical Sciences, your first application on the system will be deemed your first-choice preference and further applications will be ordered based on the sequential time of submission. If you are successfully shortlisted, you will be interviewed only on your first-choice application and ranked accordingly. Those ranked highest will be offered a PhD studentship. In the situation where you are ranked highly and your first-choice project is already allocated to someone who was ranked higher than you, you may be offered your 2nd or 3rd choice project depending on the availability of this project.