Healthy ageing

Healthy ageing

Healthy aging is an imperative for populations with increasing proportions in older age brackets. Maintaining health and functionality is one important target, another is managing community based care as older people move in and out of hospitals ore remain in institutional care. Research helps to identify ways of achieving these targets. The Healthy Ageing Theme of HIRC joins researchers from a wide range of disciplines to address health challenges associated with ageing, including reduced mobility, falls, cognition changes, multimorbidity and health service utilisation.


Projects include

Nutrition, cognition and ageing

There is currently intense interest in the potential of phytochemical-rich foods to prevent age-related cognitive decline. Promising evidence is emerging, mostly from animal studies, that anthocyanins - the bioactive components that are concentrated in dark red and blue fruits such as berries and stone fruits - have the potential to benefit cognitive performance and physical functioning. In light of Australia’s aging population, developing non-pharmacological approaches to complement current therapies for the prevention and management of cognitive decline is of major public health significance.

The research team led by Associate Professor Karen Charlton (Public Health & Nutrition), includes Associate Professor Steven Roodenrys (Psychology), PhD students Katherine Kent (nee Caldwell) and Ezinne Korie alongside other UOW researchers, with collaboration from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, The University of Queensland, the Illawarra Local Health District, and industry partners Nutrafruit and Agritechnology.

To date the research team have conducted several studies:

An acute feeding study assessed if the consumption of a practical quantity of high anthocyanin cherry juice has an acute impact on cognitive functioning in older people, both with and without dementia, compared to young healthy control subjects. The study found that although there was no immediate acute effect on cognitive tests (Caldwell et al., 2015) , blood pressure and heart rate measurements dropped dramatically two hours after consuming 300ml of cherry juice and before returning to baseline 4h later (Caldwell et al., 2013). High blood pressure is a major risk factor for the development of dementia related diseases and this food based strategy may provide benefits through a number of mechanistic pathways.

A randomised clinical trial was conducted to assess changes in cognitive function in older adults with mild to moderate dementia after daily consumption of a feasible serving of anthocyanin-rich cherry juice over 12 weeks (Kent et al., 2015a). Secondary outcomes included anti-inflammatory effects, changes in functional and physical ability and mood. Improvements in verbal fluency, short term memory and long term memory were found in the cherry juice consuming group. A significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and a trend for diastolic blood pressure reduction was evident in the intervention group. The study concluded that inclusion of an anthocyanin-rich beverage may be a practical and feasible way to improve total anthocyanin consumption in older adults with mild to moderate dementia, with potential to improve specific cognitive outcomes.

The team have also collaborated to determine the intake of flavonoids in older Australians, based on secondary data analysis (Kent et al., 2015b) and to develop a flavonoid specific food frequency questionnaire in older Australians (Caldwell et al., 2014)

The team is now conducting a new acute feeding study to assess the impact of a feasible serving of anthocyanin-rich Queen Garnett Plum Juice on cognition and blood pressure in young and older healthy adults. In the near future, a second randomised controlled trial to assess the impact of chronic consumption of anthocyanin-rich Queen Garnett Plum Juice on cognitive and physical functioning in healthy older adults will be confucted to further our knowledge of the impact of fruit flavonoids on healthy ageing and cognition.


  • Caldwell K, Charlton KE, Roodenrys S, Jenner A. 2015. Anthocyanin-rich cherry juice does not improve acute cognitive performance on RAVLT. Nutr Neurosci.[Epub ahead of print] DOI:
  • Caldwell, K., Charlton, K. E., Roodenrys, S. & Jenner, A., 2013. High anthocyanin cherry juice acutely impacts blood pressure but not cognition in young people, older people and dementia patients. Clinical Nutrition, 32 (Supplement 1), S122.
  • Kent, K, Charlton K, Roodenrys S, Batterham M, Potter J, Traynor V, Gilbert H, Morgan O, Richards R, 2015a. Consumption of anthocyanin-rich cherry juice for 12 weeks improves memory and cognition in older adults with mild to moderate dementia. European Journal of Nutrition [In Press]
  • Kent, K, Charlton KE, Russell J, Mitchell P, Flood V, 2015b. Estimation of flavonoid intake in older Australians: secondary data analysis of the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics. [In Press]
  • Caldwell K., Charlton K., Flood V., and Russell, J., 2014. Development Of A Quantitative Food Frequency Questionnaire To Measure Flavonoid Intake In Older Australians. Making Research Matter Conference Proceedings: The 13th National Conference of Emerging Researchers in Ageing (pp. 44-44).

Why purple food is better for your brain

Imagine being able to prevent memory loss through diet, through everyday purple-coloured foods you can buy at the supermarket. Professor Karen Charlton believes this prospect isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound.

The connection between memory loss and purple food