Region's dementia fear

THE Northern Rivers is headed for a destiny dogged by dementia, according to a new report from Alzheimer's Australia.

But there is no need to panic, says Southern Cross University professor Colleen Cartwright.

“It is not like we are headed for an epidemic of dementia,” the university's foundation professor for aged services, and the director of its aged services learning and research centre at Coffs Harbour said.

“The North Coast already has an ageing population that is higher than the state average.

“And that figure is expected to increase, in line with increasing cases of dementia.

“While we will have an increase it is not like we are going to have a tsunami. It's not like half the population over the age of 65 will be affected.”

In fact, the figures remain 12 per cent of people over 65 develop dementia. Over 80, that figure rises to 25pc.

“But that's still 75pc of the population who don't have the disease,” she said.

Modern treatments that can slow the onset of dementia and gene therapy are tools that may decrease the number of people affected in future.

So too can a healthy lifestyle.

Good diet can help prevent the onset of vascular dementia, caused by smoking, drinking and eating too much fat.

Depression also factors into the number of elderly who appear affected by dementia.

“Older people have long been under-diagnosed for depression,” Prof Cartwright said.

In order to stave off dementia, active use of the brain can play a role. Treating the brain like a muscle, with the emphasis on 'use it or lose it' can keep dementia at bay, although that is not guaranteed.

“Some of the world's smartest people have developed dementia later in life,” Prof Cartwright said.

Perhaps the biggest risk to the elderly requiring care for dementia is the community's ability to look after the carers.

“In the early phases of dementia people still live in the community,” Prof Cartwright said.

“The question is how do we support the carers?

“Otherwise there will be more people requiring respite, which will mean more cost to the community.”


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