Healthy Ageing Program

Research Overview

Our Cohorts:

1. Women's Healthy Ageing Project (n = 2,001).

The Women's Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP) commenced in 1990 as a cohort study of over 2000 women, which examined Australian women's health from midlife (then aged 45-55 years) before the menopausal transition. In 1992 the project commenced the longitudinal follow up of over 400 women from the original cohort. The WHAP continues to follow up these women, who are now all aged over 70 years.

The WHAP aims to improve overall health and wellbeing through addressing the lack of awareness of modifiable risk in women, and improving our understanding of risk factors and the accrual of disease over time. The WHAP is a unique Australian study with over 25 years of longitudinal prospective follow up, with data including biomarkers, clinical assessments, lifestyle, quality of life, and physical measures.

The key areas:

  • Bone: balance & strength, X-rays, bone density
  • Brain: brain imaging, executive function, memory, full neurocognitive tests
  • Blood: biomarker, hormonal, inflammatory, genetic
  • Medical: medications, chronic illness, common illness, family illness
  • Quality of Life: sexuality, self-rated health, quality of life, life satisfaction
  • Socio-demographic: education & employment, marital status, carer load, partner employment, household composition
  • Lifestyle: diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption & history, smoking history
  • Psychological: mood, depression, wellbeing & quality of life; self-rated health, stress
  • Physical Measures: BMI, blood pressure, head circumference, abdominal fat

2. Healthy Ageing Project (n = 22,000).

The Healthy Ageing Project is an online health survey of Australians, which commenced in 2014. Data on self-reported health, lifestyle, mood, and vascular risk factors was collected from male and female participants aged 18 years and over.

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Clinical Trials Research:

In collaboration with the Centre for Neuroscience at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Healthy Ageing Program runs clinical trials designed to improve neurological health and quality of life in ageing.

Our research in the media

  • ABC Catalyst 23 August 2016: This episode of Catalyst regarding current research on the prevention of Alzheimer's Disease featured Professor Cassandra Szoeke and the Women's Healthy Ageing Project. The results from the paper "Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project" were also discussed.
  • Nine News Melbourne 10 June 2016: The results from the paper "Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project" were discussed by Prof Cassandra Szoeke in this Nine News Melbourne report. It highlighted the importance of exercise in mid- and later-life in maintaining memory in later-life.
  • Melbourne Ten Eyewitness News 10 June 2016: Prof Cassandra Szoeke was featured in a Melbourne Ten Eyewitness News report on the paper "Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project".
  • Australian Financial Review 14 June 2016: Landmark study shows single best way for women to stave off dementia is to move. Jill Margo wrote a feature article for the Australian Financial Review on the Women's Healthy Ageing Project and the results from the "Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project" paper.
  • Daily Mail Australia 10 June 2016What’s the best thing you can do to avoid dementia? EXERCISE! The results from the paper "Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project" was featured in a news article by the Daily Mail Australia.
  • Pursuit, University of Melbourne 8 June 2016: Exercising in Middle Age Can Save Your Memory Later. Pursuit discussed the findings from the paper "Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project".
  • ABC News 16 December 2015:  ‘Almost all my friends live at home’: Adult children living with parents becoming ’normal’ in Australia'. This ABC News article discusses the paper "Boomerang families and failure-to-launch: Commentary on adult children living at home" which discusses the increasing number of adults who live with their parents, and this impact this has on parents.
  • Pursuit, University of Melbourne 12 November 2015Crowded house as kids fail to launch. This Pursuit article covered the paper "Boomerang families and failure-to-launch: Commentary on adult children living at home.



The Healthy Ageing Program encourages collaboration, and in particular cross-cultural studies and combined cohort studies that leverage synergistic datasets.  The research program has nurtured a growing cohort of alumni from undergraduate students to higher degree students, scientists and health professionals completing postgraduate research training.

The dataset is open for analysis towards higher degree study. Our dataset is available as the "Well Women's Longitudinal Study" via application to BioGrid Australia Limited. BioGrid Australia is a leading data sharing organisation, which provides a secure infrastructure that advances health research by linking participant-level, privacy-protected and ethically approved, clinical, biospecimen, genetic and imaging data among a wide network of health collaborators.


  • International guidelines for women's health: Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN; Harlow SD, Crawford S, Dennerstein L, Burger HG, Mitchell ES, Sowers MF, the ReSTAGE Collaboration. Recommendations from a multi-study evaluation of proposed criteria for staging reproductive aging. Climacteric 2007. 10(2), p. 112-119.)
  • Worldwide Alzheimers  Disease Initiative: The cognitive dataset is also included in the Global Alzheimer’s Association Interactive Network.
  • Cross-cultural programs:
  1. Japan - Professor Noboru Fujise and Professor Manabu Ikeda (Campbell KE,  Dennerstein L, Tacey M, Fujise N, Ikeda M, Szoeke C. A comparison of Geriatric Depression Scale scores in older Australian and Japanese women. Epidemiol Psychiatr Sci, 2016: p. 1-9.);
  2. Hong Kong - Sao Po Centre on Aging;
  3. United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy (Dennerstein L, Lehert P, Koochaki PE, Graziottin A, Leiblum S, Alexander JL. A symptomatic approach to understanding women's health experiences: a cross-cultural comparison of women aged 20 to 70 years. Menopause 2007. 14(4), p. 688-96.);
  4. France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, UK, Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Australia (Dennerstein L, Lehert P, Heinemann K. Global epidemiological study of variation of premenstrual symptoms with age and sociodemographic factors. Menopause Int 2011. 17(3), p. 96-101; Dennerstein L, Lehert P, Heinemann K. Global study of women's experiences of premenstrual symptoms and their effects on daily life. Menopause Int 2011. 17(3): p. 88-95.);
  5. Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom (Dennerstein L, Lehert P. Women's sexual functioning, lifestyle, mid-age, and menopause in 12 European countries. Menopause 2004. 11(6 Pt 2): p. 778-85.).
  • Healthy Ageing: Institute for Health and Ageing (IHA), Australian Catholic University.


Funding of the Women's Healthy Ageing Project cohort follow-up has been predominantly funded by sequential competitive peer-reviewed National- and State-based health departments starting with:

  • Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) Collaborative Research Program Grant
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (Grants 547600, 1032350 & 1062133).

Biomarker freezers funding (which contain all stored samples):

  • The Ian Potter Foundation
  • The Smorgon Family Trust

Disease-specific support:

  • Bone mineral density testing - Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals Inc., 1993, 1996, 1998
  • Hand and knee x-rays - Shepherd Foundation, 2002/03  (follow up X-rays pending from Scobie and Claire Mackinnon award)
  • Assays on stored 2002/03 samples, including CTX-II assays - Collier Foundation,  2008)
  • Vitamin D assays - Scobie and Claire Mackinnon, 2008
  • DHEAS assay - Australian Menopause Society, 2008
  • Lipid profile biomarkers from stored 2002/03 samples - J.O. & J.R. Wicking Trust, 2012/13
  • Neuropsychiatric evaluations and hormone biomarkers - Alzheimer’s Association (IIRG-01-2684), 2002/03; Ramiciotti Foundation 2012/13; Alzheimer’s Association (NIA320312) and the Brain Foundation, 2014/15
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Alzheimer’s Association (IIRG-01-2684), 2002/03;  Mason Foundation, 2014/15
  • Cerebral Positron Emission Tomography (PET) amyloid images - Bayer HealthCare, 2012/13

Research Publications

  • Szoeke C, Lehert P, Henderson VW, Dennerstein L, Desmond P, Campbell S. Predictive factors for verbal memory performance over decades of ageing: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project. The American Journal of Geriatric Ageing 2016; in press. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2016.05.008
  • Campbell KE, Dennerstein L, Tacey M, Fujise N, Ikeda M, Szoeke C. A comparison of Geriatric Depression Scale scores in older Australian and Japanese women. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 2016; in press. doi: 10.1017/S2045796015001110.
  • Burn K, Dennerstein L, Browning C, Szoeke C. Patterns of social engagement in the transition to later life. Maturitas 2016; in press.
  • Bovalino S, Charleson G, Szoeke C. The impact of red and processed meat consumption on cardiovascular disease risk in women. Nutrition 2016;32:349-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2015.09.015.
  • Burn K, Szoeke C. Grandparenting predicts late-life cognition: Results from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project. Maturitas 2015;81(2):317-22. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.03.013.
  • Burn K, Szoeke C. Is grandparenting a form of social engagement that benefits cognition in ageing? Maturitas 2015;80(2):122-5. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.10.017.
  • Chua CK, Henderson VW, Dennerstein L, Ames D, Szoeke C. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and cognition in midlife, post-menopausal women. Neurobiology of Aging 2014;35(7):1654-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.01.140.
  • Lonnee-Hoffmann RA, Dennerstein L, Lehert P, Szoeke C. Sexual function in the late postmenopause: a decade of follow-up in a population-based cohort of Australian women. Journal of Sexual Medicine 2014;11(8):2029-38. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12590.
  • Steinbach M, Szoeke C, Dennerstein L. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in healthy ageing women from the 20 year Women's Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP). Australasian Journal on Ageing 2014;33(Suppl. 1):63. doi: 10.1111/ajag.12179.
  • McCluskey GE, Szoeke C, Yates PA. Subjective memory complaints ten years prior have no relationship with brain amyloid: Data from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project. Alzheimer's & Dementia 2014;10(4, Suppl.):P69-P70. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.05.129.
  • Szoeke CE, Robertson JS, Rowe CC, Yates P, Campbell K, Masters CL, et al. The Women's Healthy Ageing Project: Fertile ground for investigation of healthy participants 'at risk' for dementia. International Review of Psychiatry 2013;25(6):726-37. doi: 10.3109/09540261.2013.873394.
  • Chen K, Lowndes G, Ames D, Szoeke C. The influence of midlife cholesterol on late-life cognition: The Women's Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP). Alzheimer's & Dementia 2012;8(4, Supplement):P596. doi:
  • Szoeke C, Cicuttini F, Guthrie J, Dennerstein L. The relationship of reports of aches and joint pains to the menopausal transition: a longitudinal study. Climacteric : the journal of the International Menopause Society. 2008;11(1):55-62.
  • Dennerstein, L., Sexuality, midlife, and menopause. Menopause 2008;15(2): 221-2.
    Szoeke CEI, Cicuttini FM, Guthrie JR, Clark MS, Dennerstein L. Factors affecting the prevalence of osteoarthritis in healthy middle-aged women: Data from the longitudinal Melbourne Women's Midlife Health Project. Bone 2006;39(5):1149-55. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2006.05.016.
  • Dennerstein L, Guthrie JR, Clark M, Lehert P, Henderson VW. A population-based study of depressed mood in middle-aged, Australian-born women. Menopause 2004;11(5):563-8.
  • Guthrie JR, Dennerstein L, Taffe JR, Lehert P, Burger HG. The menopausal transition: a 9-year prospective population-based study. The Melbourne Women's Midlife Health Project. Climacteric 2004;7(4):375-89.
  • Dennerstein L, Lehert P, Dudley E, Guthrie J. Factors contributing to positive mood during the menopausal transition. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 2001;189(2):84-9.
  • Mazza D, Dennerstein L, Garamszegi CV, Dudley EC. The physical, sexual and emotional violence history of middle-aged women: a community-based prevalence study. Medical Journal of Australia 2001;175(4):199-201.
  • Dennerstein L, Dudley EC, Hopper JL, Guthrie JR, Burger HG. A prospective population-based study of menopausal symptoms. Obstetrics and Gynecology 2000;96(3):351-8.
  • Guthrie, JR, Dennerstein L, Dudley EC. Weight gain and the menopause: a 5-year prospective study. Climacteric 1999; 2(3):205-11.
  • Guthrie JR, Ebeling PR, Hopper JL, Barrett-Connor E, Dennerstein L, Dudley EC, Burger HG, Wark JD. A prospective study of bone loss in menopausal Australian-born women. Osteoporosis International 1998;8(3):282-90.
  • Dennerstein L, Smith AM, Morse C, Burger H, Green A, Hopper J, Ryan M. Menopausal symptoms in Australian women. Medical Journal of Australia 1993;159(4):232-6.