Swinburne PhD candidate Matthew Pase is investigating whether dietary supplements can help counter the slowing of brain function with age.
In the most developed regions of the world, 264 million people or 21 per cent of the population are estimated to be 60 years or older and this figure is projected to increase to around 416 million or 33 per cent of the population by 2050.
''Similarly, the proportion of people over 65 in Australia is increasing, and this new research is aimed at improving the cognitive and brain health of older Australians," Pase said.
''The growing size of the ageing population has serious implications for the number of people with age-associated cognitive impairment or dementia, and strategies need to be developed to keep people as cognitively healthy as possible.
''Many elderly people are already taking more supplements, but little is known about their effectiveness,'' he said.
If cognition - especially mental speed and memory - in the elderly is to be improved, a much sounder basis for the effectiveness of supplements is needed.
Pase's PhD is concerned with the effects of the Indian herb Bacopa and the French pine bark extract Pycnogenol on cognitive performance following 12 months of administration in healthy elderly subjects.
''We are putting them through rigorous scientific trials to examine their efficacy to establish if they can be somewhat useful in improving cognitive performance in the elderly," he said.
The trial, which will also test the efficacy of a combined micronutrient supplement, is one of the largest to date and has received funding from the Australian Research Council through a grant to Swinburne Professors Con Stough and Andrew Scholey.
Pase has been awarded the 2012 Menzies Allied Health Scholarship to support this research.
This adds to an impressive record for Pase, who last year won an international award for his finding that stiffening arteries affect the cognitive abilities of even middle-aged people.
The International Society for Intelligence Research, which publishes the leading journal in the field, awarded Pase the prestigious Templeton Foundation prize for best PhD paper at the society's last international conference.
''We found that elevated measures of arterial stiffness - as we age our arteries get stiffer - predicted performance on memory. We found that even in middle-aged people from 40 to 65, the higher their arterial stiffness, the worse their memory performance,'' he said.
''This is because the elasticity of the major arteries, especially those around the heart, act to cushion against the heart pulses. However, with increasing stiffness this process becomes less efficient, meaning that the brain is exposed to the damaging effects of higher pulsatile pressures.''