Cognitive Ageing

From Educational Opportunities to Individual Risk Profiles

The Project – Explanation

The five-year project CRISP (2019-2023) 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 (2019-2023; 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.

Anja was among the ’emerging leaders in dementia’ below age 35 selected by UK SIN in 2014/15. Since then, she has been contributing to forming and consolidating the network of World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD) that is now spanning 29 countries and 250+ members in the fields of dementia research, care, and innovation. She is elected Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. She serves as expert on the topics of dementia, health politics, and ageing on several advisory boards, committees, and working groups.

Photo © Philippe Reuter

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. She works on gender inequalities in cognitive ageing and currently investigates differences in prevalence of memory impairment in Latin America and the Caribbeans, with a focus on temporal changes and prevalence of associated risk factors.


Zhalama joined the CRISP project in September 2020, after a few months of remote work due to COVID-19. Her main research interest is in causal inference, specifically Bayesian networks—learning causal relationships from observational data. Zhalama’s work will contribute 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.


Matthias Klee joined the CRISP project as doctoral student in Psychology in October 2020. He will apply 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.


Miriam Buff holds a Master in Psychology from the University of Luxembourg. She is currently external expert on the CRISP project, contributing to literature searches and writing excerpts.


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 Teixeira Santos was external expert on the CRISP project in spring 2020. She holds a PhD in Basic Psychology from the University of Minho (June 2020). Ana Carolina 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.

Ana Carolina is also interested in the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on cognition in older adults with increased risk of dementia. We are excited to host her jointly with ZithaSenior for an FNR sponsored postdoc (Industrial Fellowship) to explore this research question further, with a start in June 2021.


The CRISP research project in the press


CRISP publications related to cognitive ageing and dementia


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