Cognitive Ageing

From Educational Opportunities to Individual Risk Profiles

The Project – Explanation

The five-year project CRISP (01/2019-07/2024) investigates cognitive ageing and dementia from a life course and social perspective, with a particular focus on inequalities related to education and gender. By understanding better how to create environments that enable the development of cognitive reserve over the life course, we will be able to make recommendations to policymakers in the domains of education and work. By improving current knowledge on who is at particular risk of cognitive decline, and who will benefit from lifestyle interventions, we will be able to identify vulnerable individuals and ways to support the delaying of cognitive decline. Ideally, we will be able to make recommendations for behavior changes in order to decrease risk of cognitive decline. This project receives funding from the European Research Council (grant agreement no. 803239).

Inequalities by gender and socio-economic background, and cognitive functioning later in life

Do societal conditions determine to which extent individuals are able to build up cognitive reserve? Since there is no medical cure available to delay cognitive ageing, we need to understand how to create the best possible environments to build up cognitive reserve. We investigate the different opportunities of men and women in terms of education, work and pay, and how they relate to cognitive performance in later life. We also investigate how inequalities in educational opportunities – schooling systems that favor children from higher socio-economic backgrounds – play out their influence on cognitive functioning over the life course.

Improving long-term dementia risk prediction and lifestyle interventions with new methods

We have some understanding about the high risk groups to develop dementia, and can build on first evidence on short-term benefits of multidomain lifestyle interventions to delay cognitive decline. However, we have very limited generalized knowledge of what intervention works for whom and when. That is why we need to understand more clearly the potential and limits of lifestyle interventions. How do we do this? We use new causal inference frameworks to analyse observational data in order to identify target groups and promising components of future lifestyle interventions. Additionally, we implement recently developed machine learning methods to improve accuracy of risk prediction.

About Anja Leist

Anja Leist is PI on the CRISP project and Associate Professor in Public Health and Ageing at the University of Luxembourg. Since her PhD studies in Psychology at the University of Trier, Anja has published research on ageing, in particular cognitive ageing and dementia, from a social epidemiological and life course perspective. She had postdoctoral research stays at the universities of Luxembourg, Zurich/Switzerland, and Rotterdam/Netherlands, and was funded by national and European-level competitive postdoctoral fellowships. Anja was awarded a grant by the European Research Council in 2018 (2019-2024; 1.15 mio. EUR) to pursue innovative research on cognitive aging from a social and behavioral (risk reduction) perspective, with a focus on inequalities related to education and gender, and using machine learning techniques. Find her CV here.

Anja was among the ’emerging leaders in dementia’ below age 35 selected by UK SIN in 2014/15. She represents the network of World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD) at the World Dementia Council. She is elected Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. She serves as expert on the topics of dementia risk reduction, health politics, and ageing on several advisory boards, committees, and working groups.

The CRISP Team


Fabiana Ribeiro joined the CRISP project in January 2020, after having obtained a PhD in Basic Psychology in 2019 at the University of Minho, Portugal. While on the CRISP project, she worked on gender inequalities in cognitive ageing and investigated differences in prevalence of memory impairment in Latin America and the Caribbeans, with a focus on temporal changes and prevalence of associated risk factors. Fabiana left the project end of 2023 to pursue independent work.


Matthias Klee joined the CRISP project as doctoral student in Psychology in October 2020. He applies machine learning techniques in order to identify modifiable risk factors impeding cognitive functioning in late adulthood. He finished his Master studies in Psychology (Organizational Behavior and Adaptive Cognition) at Heidelberg University, Germany, in September 2020.


Jung Hyun Kim joined the ERC-CRISP team as a PhD student in February 2021. Her research interests lie in the topic of reserves, which protect against volatile events in life. She is passionate about using machine learning to find the socioeconomic factors that increase reserves and influence later-life cognitive health. Jung Hyun holds a Bachelor in Economics from University of Tokyo, and she completed a Research Master in Economics specializing in econometrics from Ecole Polytechnique & ENSAE Paris in October 2020.


Ana Carolina holds a PhD in Basic Psychology from the University of Minho (June 2020). She is interested in the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on cognition in older adults with increased risk of dementia. Ana Carolina started her postdoc fellowship, jointly sponsored with ZithaSenior through an FNR Industrial Fellowship, in June 2021.

Ana Carolina Teixeira Santos was external expert on the CRISP project in spring 2020. She contributed to two systematic reviews with meta-analysis on prevalence of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in studies carried out in Latin America and the Caribbean. After a postdoc fellowship on the MEDITAGING project, she now leads the IMILUX project at the University of Luxembourg.


Anouk Geraets joined our team mid-September 2022. Anouk holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology about biological determinants of depression in July 2021 at the Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology and the Department of Internal Medicine, Maastricht University (NL). She previously spent a period at the Health Behaviors in School-aged Children project at our Department of Social Sciences, and a period as post-doc at Maastricht University. Her research interests comprise biological causes of psychopathology, healthy aging, and epidemiology. Within Anja’s research group, Anouk will investigate the influence of lifestyle factors on the association between depression and incident dementia with data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), and investigate the links between socioeconomic factors, cognitive reserve, lifestyle, and dementia.


Melissa Chan works with tri-sector partners (business, government and nonprofit) in health and social care to spearhead service design, knowledge translation, and go-to-market projects. Melissa joined our team in February 2023, leading the co-development of ‘Get Brain Healthy’, a brain health workplace programme, forming the practical application of the CRISP project’s findings. Her work focuses on brain health, dementia, and carer support – particularly in the intersection of research and translation into practice. She has led multiple initiatives related to care and support delivery for dementia, including CARA by Dementia Singapore, a national platform to facilitate the safe return of people living with dementia. She is a Senior Atlantic Fellow with the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) and previously President of the World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD) Network, driving dementia innovation across disciplines and borders.


Miriam Buff holds a Master in Psychology from the University of Luxembourg. She contributed as an external expert on the CRISP project, contributing to literature searches and writing excerpts, until November 2021.


Zhalama worked on the CRISP project from September 2020, after a few months of remote work due to COVID-19, to December 2021. Her main research interest is in causal inference, specifically Bayesian networks—learning causal relationships from observational data. Zhalama’s work contributes to identifying causal relationships between risk factors that are predictive of cognitive decline and/or dementia. She received a B.Eng. in Material Science and Engineering from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, in 2002, and a PhD in Computer & Information Science from the University of South Australia in August 2019.


The CRISP research project in the press


CRISP publications related to cognitive ageing and dementia


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