The most commonly encountered opening sentence in scientific publications about dementia undoubtedly relates to the overwhelming burden of disease. Finding an effective preventive or therapeutic intervention against dementia has been considered the most important unmet need in contemporary medicine. While efforts on tackling this devastating disease have increased exponentially, it is difficult to imagine that in the 1980s and early-1990s, the disease did not feature prominently on any public health report. Yet, it was already then that epidemiologists recognized the growing societal burden of dementia and rationalized that dementia is not necessarily part of aging. Indeed, the conviction that dementia is pathologically distinct from aging led to various efforts in search of unravelling its risk factors and understanding its pre-clinical phase. Among the early pioneers, the population-based Rotterdam Study was initiated in 1990 clearly aiming on chronic diseases including dementia, and among this Alzheimer's disease, as one of its focus points. Ever since, the Rotterdam Study has been an important cornerstone in increasing our knowledge about dementia from an epidemiological perspective. Here, we summarize the main findings originating from this study, and put these into perspective with previous and current work in the field. With an expanding scope of the Rotterdam Study over the years, we discuss findings on occurrence, modifiable risk factors, imaging, and its genetic underpinnings. Importantly, we conclude with recommendations -or, perhaps better stated, a wish list -for future research which may help us reach our finish line: finding an effective preventive or therapeutic intervention against dementia.

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Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
Department of Epidemiology

Wolters, F., Adams, H., Bos, D., Licher, S., & Ikram, A. (2018). Three Decades of Dementia Research: Insights from One Small Community of Indomitable Rotterdammers. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (Vol. 64, pp. S145–S159). doi:10.3233/JAD-179938