The research group BREATH conducts multidisciplinary research on brain health from the life-course perspective using epidemiological studies. There are three main ongoing projects:
1) Early-life risk factors for anxiety and depression
The burden of mental disorders has its roots in early life. Our aim is to study the associations of early-life adversity with the occurrence of mental disorders during the lifecourse and explore underlying social and neurobiological mechanisms. We conduct studies using the European-wide Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe and the Czech birth cohort European Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood.
This project has already led to several findings. For example, we have found that people who were born into households that struggled socioeconomically during the first three years of their lives tend to have greater trait anxiety as young adults. Alterations in the functional connectivity between the right hippocampus and a number of regions in the brain could explain this relationship in women, but not in men (see our publication in Psychological Medicine). Individuals with this early-life risk factor had also lower cognitive ability in adolescence, which, in turn predicted greater trait anxiety in young adulthood. Functional connectivity of the right lateral prefrontal cortex mediated the relationship between lower cognitive ability in adolescence and higher trait anxiety in young adulthood (see our publication in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience). According to our study in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the impact of early-life socioeconomic position seems to last until later life, but not equally for men and women. Growing up in poor socioeconomic conditions is a stronger risk factor for the development of depressive symptoms for women than for men.
2) Risk factors for cognitive decline
Dementia is recognized as possible to prevent by improving cardiovascular health and socioeconomic conditions. It affects women more often than men, but their longer life expectancy cannot fully explain it. Our aim is to determine how to prevent declining cognitive functions and dementia investigate why women have greater risks of getting dementia than men. We perform analyses using the European-wide Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, American Health and Retirement Study and British PROTECT study, complementing with data from health registers.
Our study in Journal of Alzheimer´s Disease suggests positive changes in cognitive health of older Czechs. We have found that the age-specific prevalence of cognitive impairment declined at least by one fifth from 2006/2007 to 2015. This change was associated with increases in physical activity, better management of high blood cholesterol, and longer education. According to our study in Scientific Reports, strategies to enhance cognitive functions of the population, such as reducing childhood socioeconomic disadvantages and improving education, might have a greater benefit for women.
3) The COVID-19 HEalth caRe wOrkErS (HEROES) Study
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated an unprecedented pressure on the healthcare systems and workforce, magnifying the already existing problems. Our group conducts the Czech arm of the international HEROES-CZ Longitudinal Study developed within the global HEROES Project, which is a coordinated effort to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of healthcare workers in 26 countries across 4 continents. The third wave of data collection in Czechia is being conducted in June 2022.