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Indigenous people three times more likely to suffer from dementia: study

By Caroline Winter, ABC News

Indigenous people have dementia rates three or four times higher than non-Indigenous people, researchers in the Northern Territory have found.

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, examined 780 cases of dementia in the Territory between 2008 and 2011 and found it struck Indigenous people at a younger age.

Community geriatrician Michael Lowe says the median age of Indigenous people with dementia was 72 compared to an average of 79.

“In all populations you can see people with dementia from their 40s up, but where for non-Aboriginal people the peak in cases happens at 75 to 85, it happens 10 or 20 years earlier for Aboriginal people,” Dr Lowe said.

The results are consistent with studies done in Western Australia’s Kimberley, Queensland and New South Wales.

Chris Hatherly, national research manager with Alzheimer’s Australia, says due to the sample size and research method, these are the most comprehensive results to date.

“It shows that even though the Indigenous population in Australia is relatively small, they’re disproportionally affected by dementia so we have to make sure that any program, any service, any research really does pay attention to the Indigenous population,” he said.

There are more than 17,000 new cases of dementia each week.

“It’s the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cardio vascular issues, so it’s a big concern,” Mr Hatherly said.

“It affects a lot of people: 322,000 people living with the condition but another 1.5 million who are affected directly or indirectly as carers, friends or family members.”

Dr Lowe says an emerging issue within the Territory’s population is also adding to the burden.

“The Northern Territory has got a very low number as a percentage of elderly people in general, but it’s the fastest growing percentage in Australia, so we really do have a very rapidly increasing number of elderly people and this has implications for our health service,” he said.

He says recommendations from the Indigenous Dementia Project from 2002 have helped address some unmet needs and service gaps in the Territory, but more is needed, particularly outside of Darwin and Alice Springs.

“Remote people in the community, many of them have the support of their families and their communities, but when people need more than that it’s hard to get that to the communities,” he said.

Prior to the election, the Federal Government promised an extra $200 million over five years towards dementia research.

05/06/2014 – 00:00

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