Madi Salter spent eight weeks caring for her grandmother who has Alzheimer's disease. (ABC News: Helen Frost)
Dementia is well on its way to becoming Australia's biggest killer, but new research shows that rates are declining in older Australians.
- The study examined two groups of elderly Australians at home and in the long term
- He found the rate of dementia decreased in both groups
- An expert says it could be the first example of a decline anywhere in the world
A large-scale research project examining Australians accessing home or long-term care services, published in The Journal of Gerontology Medical Sciences, found that the country's dementia rates have decreased.
Researchers now believe that the current disease estimates may need to be re-evaluated.
The aging population of the country means that the overall number of older Australians with dementia and people accessing care for the elderly is still likely to increase.
However, researchers believe that public health measures, changing lifestyles, higher education rates and the decline of smoking are all factors that contribute to the decline in the rate of dementia.
The South Australian doctor of health and medical research (SAHMRI) doctor and lead author Stephanie Harrison said the results were consistent with other studies in high-income countries including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The data were evaluated by the Australian Southern Elders Registry (ROSA) based on SAHMRI and other sources, including information provided by people who have access to aged care services nationwide.
The research project examined access to home or long-term care for Australian seniors. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
The study of 188,846 elderly people who received home care services found that the prevalence of dementia dropped from 26% in 2005 to 21% in 2014.
For 348,311 elderly people who started long-term care, the dementia rate dropped from 50% in 2008 to 47% in 2014.
The research did not show exactly why the dementia rate had decreased, but could indicate that the prevalence of dementia could change.
"The great thing about the ROSA project is that we are using data that is already routinely collected on older people, so when people want access to care for the elderly, they must have an eligibility assessment for the elderly that is complete enough to collect many information on the individual, "said Dr. Harrison.
"What we are doing at ROSA is to link this information with other information we have about health, including what drugs they are using, what services they are using, and mortality information to create this new rich data source."
Lifestyle changes can reduce cases of dementia
Associate Professor Michael Woodward, who is the honorary medical consultant of Dementia Australia and specializes in geriatric and rehabilitative medicine, said that it has already been shown that public health measures and changes in individual life practices could reduce the number of new cases of dementia.
An expert said that the results can be the first example of a decline in dementia rates anywhere in the world. (ABC Central West: Melanie Pearce)
"I am not aware of any other study that has shown a reduction in the prevalence of dementia which is the absolute number of people in a setting, I find it really difficult to fully believe it because reduced accidents will only translate into a reduction in prevalence compared to many years, "he said.
"But the fact that it was shown, could be the first example of this anywhere in the world, it is very, very exciting.
"So I am, and I think the whole dementia community, actually the whole Australian community should be very, very excited about the fact that we are showing a small number of people with dementia in the settings that have been examined."
He said it will take a long time for the numbers to decrease, based on changes in individual lifestyle and public measures.
He said that with population change there would be a greater demand for assistance even if the numbers of dementia began to decline.
"People hope that at some point we will develop effective treatments for dementia," he said.
"This is still far away, there are some very promising drugs in development, but our emphasis on this phase should be on prevention."
The first series of hearings during the Third Aged Care Commission in Adelaide last month revealed that dementia was destined to become the leading cause of death for people over the age of 85.
The commission has heard that the condition – which has no cure and cannot be cured – will impact every Australian and create new challenges in the community.
The managing director of Dementia Australia Maree McCabe told the committee that there were about 436,000 Australians living with dementia today.
He said that by 2050, that number will rise to 1.1 million.
It is horrible to look at, it is heartbreaking & # 39;
Madi Salter spent eight weeks caring for her grandmother, Margaret, who has Alzheimer's after her grandfather, Bill, was admitted at the hospital on Christmas Eve after a fall that caused several brain hemorrhages, a fractured skull and then a stroke.
Bill had been Margaret's full time companion.
Madi Salter and her family will take part in the Memory Walk in Australia. (ABC News: Helen Frost)
"We had no idea what Pop was doing every day, all day, looking after her grandmother and supporting her and making sure she was safe," said Mrs. Salter.
"It's horrible to look at, I think it's heartbreaking, to see someone you love slowly getting to that point where they don't remember things.
"He didn't remember what happened to Pop."
Since her grandmother's diagnosis two years ago, Ms. Salter and her family have changed their lifestyle and become much more aware of their health.
"My [other] Nanna also has Alzheimer's, so we are very aware of it in our family, "said Mrs. Salter.
"[We are] I'm just trying to eat well, but even a couple of evenings a week take a walk together and even Sudoku and things like that.
"I like those kinds of mind games and puzzles and things like that that try to make my mind work and things like that are important."
Ms. Salter and her family will take part in Dementia's "Memory Walk" in Australia, in Glenelg, west of Adelaide, this Sunday.
Initially, his goal was to walk the family together and meet other people who were going through the same thing.
"We raised nearly $ 2,500 and the support that was given to us through family and friends, work and the community was incredible," he said.
"It was nice."