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Dementia, mental health and neurodegeneration

The Lewy body dementias (LBDs) include dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease with dementia (PDD) and they are the second to third most common cause of degenerative dementia in older people after Alzheimer’s disease.

This means in the UK that approximately 130,000 people are affected by LBD and prevalence is expected to double over the next 30 years. Levels of functional disability, impaired quality of life and annual care costs in LBD are significantly greater than those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

However despite the significant numbers affected and wide range of symptoms, our understanding of how to best diagnose and treat LBD remains poor. The multisystem nature of LBD means that single solutions will not be effective. Solving problems in LBD is likely to require combined approaches and innovations working together in synergy.

What is the impact of dementia?

Dementia is one of the major causes of later life disability and has higher health and social care costs than cancer and chronic heart disease combined. Care-givers experience significant mental, physical and financial impacts, with women and people from poor socio-economic backgrounds being disproportionately affected.

The quality of life for people living with Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD) and their care-givers is even lower than that of Alzheimer’s disease. Coupled with significantly higher care costs, higher mortality rates and worse prognosis, dementia with Lewy bodies presents as an even greater challenge than other forms of dementia.

What we cover in this theme

While dementia is not exclusive to the older population, it is commonly associated with the cellular processes of ageing. Our work in dementia sits within an integrated set of research themes that make up the NIHR Newcastle BRC, all of which work closely together to understand their disease area, as well as increasing our understanding of ageing processes.

In this theme, we focus on dementia caused by Lewy Body disease (LBD), which comprises people with Parkinson’s who develop dementia (PDD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Psychiatric symptoms cause significant morbidity/mortality when comorbid with other multiple long-term conditions (MLTCs) including dementia. Leveraging our excellence in ageing and translational mental health research we will build new thematic critical mass to identify: (iv) the mechanisms driving co-association of depression in older people with MLTCs and (v) in these groups response/prediction biomarkers to antidepressant treatments.

How we carry out dementia research

The theme brings together clinicians and researchers with expertise in this area, all with access to state-of-the-art equipment to carry out translational research studies that enhance our understanding of dementia.

Our work has led to impacts on:

  1. early, accurate diagnosis of DLB, particularly in prodromal stages
  2. understanding of the Lewy body disease course and potential modifiers
  3. understanding of the pathophysiology of key Lewy body disease related symptoms
  4. novel biomarkers for tracking Lewy body disease in terms of prognosis, predicting dementia conversion and response to treatment
  5. trialling of LBD specific interventions
  6. the role of frailty, sarcopenia and delirium in Lewy body disease.

Who we work with

Our dementia theme sits across our Newcastle Hospitals, Newcastle University and Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear NHS Trust (CNTW) partnership.

We have collaborated with several prominent studies at Newcastle University and have significant links with charities, such as the Lewy Body Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, who dedicate their time to increasing our knowledge of dementia, as well as supporting people and their families who have been affected by the condition.

Within the NIHR, we link closely with the NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration (TRC), through the Chair, Professor David Burn. We have established and active collaborations with NIHR Biomedical Research Centres in Cambridge, Sheffield and Kings College London, as well as leading on the International Dementia with Lewy bodies Consortium.

Our colleague Professor Lynn Rochester also leads the €50M Mobilise-D Gait analytics project; a consortia of over 150 professionals from 34 participating universities, hospitals, and industry-based companies. The partners have the necessary technical, clinical, and regulatory expertise to work together over a five-year period (2019-2024) to reach the common goal of validating health care technology.


Professor John-Paul Taylor

Dementia, mental health and neurodegeneration theme lead

Professor Hamish McAllister-Williams

Theme co-lead for Dementia, Mental Health and Neurodegeneration

Dr Alison Yarnall

Emerging leader for the Dementia, Mental Health and Neurodegeneration theme, NIHR BRC Clinical Senior Lecturer

Professor Lynn Rochester

Theme lead for Digital Health, Ageing Innovation and Inclusion

Dr Paul Donaghy

Intermediate Clinical Fellow

Professor Andrew Blamire

Dean, Newcastle University Translational and Clinical Research Institute

Dr Rachael Lawson

Parkinson’s UK Senior Research Fellow