Dementia risks cultural knowledge bank: Wyatt

L-R: Ken Wyatt, researcher Prof Dawn Bessarab, UWA Vice Chancellor Prof Dawn Freshwater and lead researcher Dr Kate Smith.

Five new research projects will target dementia in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt has announced $14 million will be spent on the projects across three states through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

“From physical fitness to brain training, we expect this research to generate information that will translate directly into improved health outcomes and a better quality of life for Aboriginal Australians with dementia,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Our senior First Nations people can experience dementia at more than three times the rate of other Australians, with earlier onset.

“The full extent of dementia among our people is unclear but preliminary data from the Kimberley suggests that one in eight aged 45 years or older may be affected.”

Mr Wyatt said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders were living libraries.

“Losing each individual means a precious book of knowledge is lost forever,” Mr Wyatt said.

Dr Kate Smith will run one of the projects at the University of Western Australia where a team will look to better identify and manage dementia risk factors.

Dr Smith’s Dementia Prevention and Risk Management Program for Aboriginal Australians will run over five years at sites in Perth and Geraldton.

It will work closely with local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, targeting at-risk people and trialling the effects of physical activity and a cardiovascular management program on the development of dementia.

“We know that some of the key risk factors for dementia in Aboriginal Australians are modifiable, so they are preventable,” Dr Smith said.

“There’s head injury, high blood pressure and stroke … those are all risk factors that we feel.

“If we target them in a risk factor management program within Aboriginal health services, then hopefully we can look at dementia prevention for those older Aboriginal people who are at risk of getting dementia.”

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