New twist in dementia research

The Government will invest $5.3 million in a pilot project that will focus on innovative technologies to help dementia sufferers live at home for longer and support family and carers.

Meanwhile, researchers at Flinders University in South Australia warn that community programs to raise awareness of dementia can make the problem seem “so big and terrible” that they become afraid and less likely to seek help.

More than 425,000 Australians are living with dementia and it is estimated that number will more than double over the next 30 years.

Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said there was a critical need to continue exploring more effective ways to use technology to support people with dementia.

“Technology will never replace the importance of the human touch of caring,” he said, “but we are already seeing major innovations that are improving and augmenting care.”

He highlighted the wider use of such technologies as laser beams, floor sensors and trip lights to alert family or staff to possible safety issues, adding that robots and robotic pets were helping to reduce tension among people with dementia and improving their quality of life.

“With up to 250 Australians now joining the population with dementia each day, it is critical we build on our record investment in dementia research and development,” Mr Wyatt said.

“This latest commitment will fund the trialling of technology to improve the quality of life for Australians already living with dementia, from sustaining their independence and enabling them to live in their own homes for longer, to helping families and carers to better understand dementia.

“It will also extend the capacity of the health and aged-care sectors to respond to increased rates of dementia.”

Meanwhile, Flinders University researchers have analysed the results of 32 dementia surveys conducted in the past six years with almost 37,000 participants. They found that fear and misconceptions about dementia were persisting despite community awareness campaigns.

Almost half still believed that dementia was a normal part of ageing, did not consider preventative measures and were reticent about seeking help.

“Stigmatisation occurs in the absence of accurate understanding, and contributes to social isolation and emotional distress for people with dementia and their carers,” the researchers concluded.

“While the proliferation of public awareness campaigns and dementia-friendly community initiatives in high-income countries appears to be having a positive impact, gaps in knowledge remain and present key target areas for future campaigns.”

The study pinpointed several misguided beliefs, including:

  • that strategies such as taking vitamins were more effective than exercise in preventing dementia
  • that available treatments are only useful for maintaining the wellbeing of people with dementia rather than being able to slow the progress of the disease.

“We know there are ways to slow down the progression of dementia, we know there are ways to improve  quality of life,” lead researcher Dr Monica Cations, who also collects data for studies into Alzheimer’s disease treatments, told Community Care Review. “Still there’s this overly pessimistic view of dementia despite many, many years of campaigns to try to improve that.

“These campaigns are certainly very important in promoting the importance of funding for dementia research … but the unfortunate downside is that we get the message that the problem is so big and terrible and it makes people very afraid of dementia.”

Do you follow developments in the area of dementia or are you in the ‘afraid’ category? Are you optimistic there will be developments within 10 years?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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