Population Health Sciences at DZNE

For healthy aging

Population health sciences uses large groups of people to study the causes and risk factors of diseases – and also their frequency in the population. At the DZNE, this is reflected especially in the Rhineland Study,” which will follow the health development of up to 20,000 adults in the area of Bonn over a number of decades. Due to its scope and range of methods, the “Rhineland Study” is one of the most innovative and largest health studies worldwide. Close attention is being paid to the brain and how it changes over the course of a lifetime. The findings are expected to contribute to the prevention, early detection, and treatment of neurodegenerative and other age-related diseases – and thus help people age in good health.

In the course of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases, nerve cells wither away. The disease progresses gradually, usually unnoticed for years before symptoms appear, so it is important to take effective precautions early on. With this in mind, the “Rhineland Study” headed by Prof. Monique Breteler is investigating which factors influence health well into a person’s old age. The research program of the study is specifically designed to gain a better understanding of how hereditary predispositions, lifestyle habits, and environmental influences interact in the onset of neurodegenerative and other age-related diseases. This understanding will then be used to help identify protection and risk factors.

Participants in the “Rhineland Study” are invited to have their physical and mental fitness assessed every three to four years and the progress of their health is documented. The DZNE operates two study centers in Bonn for these studies. People aged 30 years and older (no age limit) can be included in the study, regardless of their state of health. However, participation is by invitation only.

The examination procedure lasts a total of about seven hours, which can be divided into several appointments. It involves collecting biomaterials such as blood and urine, lifestyle surveys, cardiovascular examinations, testing cognitive ability and physical fitness, and a variety of other examinations that use state-of-the-art medical technology – including brain scans in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

High-tech is also used in other areas: The analysis of samples on a molecular-biological level is carried out with the help of highly precise ”omics technologies.” Sophisticated bioinformatics methods are used to evaluate the enormous amounts of data generated in the course of the study. 

Demographic developments

Demographic research – another subarea of population health sciences at the DZNE – is carried out at the site in Rostock/Greifswald. The causes and consequences of changes in the population are being investigated in close cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. The research group uses sociological surveys to understand societal causes and consequences of deterioration in mental functions, especially due to types of dementia. The study particularly focuses on how the living conditions in childhood and adolescence affects cognitive performance in old age. Another focus is on studies of living conditions in Europe against the background of existing welfare systems.These analyses are based on the survey project SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe), carried out in numerous European countries. The collected data is crucial for forecasting future dementia-related demands on social and health care systems. 

Prof. Doblhammer-Reiter also leads a team at the DZNE in Bonn that uses health insurance data to conduct disease monitoring with important epidemiological metrics of the most common neurodegenerative diseases in Germany (“NeuroDiseaseMonitor”).

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