Featured News High levels of dementia found in the Torres Strait

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Tue, 22 Dec 2020

High levels of dementia found in the Torres Strait

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New research reveals dementia levels among Torres Strait Island residents are close to three times higher than those of the wider Australian population.

James Cook University’s Professor Edward Strivens and Associate Professor Sarah Russell from JCU’s Healthy Ageing Research Team have found were part of a group that examined 276 Torres Strait residents aged between 45 and 93.

The study took in all 18 island and 5 mainland communities in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area of Far North Queensland.

“Dementia affects more than 46 million people worldwide, with rates expected to double in high-income countries and treble in low-to middle-income countries by 2050. In Australia dementia is the second overall leading cause of death and the leading cause of death in females,” said Professor Strivens.

He said participants in the study underwent a comprehensive health assessment and a geriatrician assessment.

“When we looked at the data the prevalence of dementia in the sample was 14.2%, which is 2.87 times higher than the wider Australian population. In the 60 to 69-year age group it was 4.4 times higher than the general population,” said Associate Professor Russell.

She said the increased risk of dementia in younger age groups in the study was consistent with other studies in Aboriginal communities, particularly the higher rate in those aged 60-69 years.

“As in Aboriginal communities, dementia of Alzheimer's type was the most frequently diagnosed dementia followed by vascular dementia – a subtype caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain after, for instance, a stroke,” said Professor Strivens.

He said whether the Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities share or have distinct patterns of risk factors is not yet clear, and analysis of specific risk factors for dementia within the current sample is underway.

“The results highlight the need for education and training for health workers and clinicians around screening and assessment for dementia in younger adults living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” said Associate Professor Russell.

She said many of the issues related to dementia and the ongoing effects of the disease itself responsive to intervention.

“It highlights the importance of developing culturally appropriate screening and interventions to address the high rates of chronic disease and excess disability identified in the study,” said Professor Strivens.