Dementia in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities
Dementia is a syndrome that results in the gradual deterioration in brain functioning, including language, judgment, comprehension, memory, thinking and learning. There is a collection of diseases that cause dementia – the most common types include Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia and Frontotemporal Dementia.
The course of dementia varies from person to person and is dependent upon a range of factors including the type of dementia diagnosed, physical health, lifestyle factors and the social supports of the person with the disease. As dementia advances, the person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living such as shopping or managing finances declines and eventually results in the person with dementia requiring assistance to undertake even the simplest activities.
Dementia is a major health issue in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations with research indicating a higher prevalence of the disease in rural and remote communities.
In research conducted in the Kimberly region, the prevalence of dementia was 12.4% in Aboriginal people over 45 years (and 26.8% in Aboriginal people over 65 years), a rate five times higher than the general Australian population. The study found that the most common form of dementia was Alzheimer’s disease followed by Vascular Dementia.
Similar results were obtained in research conducted in North Queensland with 20% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants aged 65 and over diagnosed with dementia or cognitive impairment.
Preliminary results from the Koori Growing Old Well Study conducted in New South Wales also revealed a higher rate of the disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people residing in urban areas, 21% or three times the general Australian rate of 6.8%, with Alzheimer’s dementia most common (44% of cases), then vascular dementia (17%), dementia due to head trauma (7%), along with mixed dementia diagnoses (29%).
A pilot study undertaken in the Torres Strait by Dr. Eddy Strivens and Professor Leon Flicker helped to shed further light on the issue in Torres Strait Islander communities. The results from the pilot study found an increased rate of dementia at 5% with another 20% having some cognitive impairment. 80% of the sample, including all participants with a cognitive impairment, had at least one vascular risk factor for dementia such as hypertension, diabetes, heart problems and high cholesterol.
The number of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (55 years and over) is growing with projections indicating this segment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will likely double in the next decade increasing the absolute numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with dementia.
IHHP work closely with Alzeimiers Australia, to yarn up about Dementia and make some deadly resources in Heywood Victoria.
IHHP and Alzheimer’s Australia, Victoria, joined together with the Winda Mara Aboriginal Corporation to produce this song about Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Filmed in the surroundings of Heywood on Gunditjmara Country, these young artists wrote about the tough subject of Dementia and the alarming rate that it is prevalent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. The song is to raise awareness of a healthy lifestyle to combat this chronic disease. Also, it’s about treating people that may have this disease with respect and dignity.
IHHP and Alzheimer’s Australia, Victoria, joined together with the Winda Mara Aboriginal Corporation to produce a music video about Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
Here is a behind the scenes documentary that takes you through the journey of the Gunditjmara People, learning about the tough subject of Dementia and the alarming rate that it is prevalent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.
Our thanks to John and the team at Alzheimer’s Australia, Victoria. Also, big thanks to the wonderful staff at Winda Mara Aboriginal Corporation for letting us use their base to create this song. Thanks to Nathan Lovett-Murray for guiding us around Gunditjmara land. What a truly amazing part of Australia.