Friday, 23 January 2015

Australians yet to grasp risk of dementia and causes

In Australia it has been found that dementia was ranked as the third leading cause of death in 2010 and the fourth highest contributor to the total burden of disease in 2011.

In recognition of this, Associate Professor Ben Smith and Henry Quach from Monash SPHPM have co-authored a research article that explores the Australian public’s knowledge and beliefs about dementia risk reduction.

Internationally, in 2012 the Global Burden of Disease Project reported that from 1990 to 2010 the total disability adjusted life years due to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia had risen by 99.3 per cent, or an increase of 53.3 per cent per 100,000 persons. Reasons for such dramatic numbers have been found to lie in population ageing and the epidemiological transitions in many middle income countries. As a result of this huge increase, WHO has called for nations to place dementia on their public health agendas. It cites that important areas of action in tackling this disease include raising awareness and reducing stigma, as well as improving care for sufferers.

The study reports that although age and genetics play a large role in the aetiology of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, behavioural, psychological, and social factors may be positively modified to aid in prevention. The study highlights that it differs from previous research in that it goes further than simply focusing on the perceived severity and personal susceptibility of the diseases. The study utilised a cross-sectional telephone survey of 1,003 Australians aged 20-75 years, which measured the importance placed on dementia, beliefs and confidence related to risk reduction, knowledge of risk reduction methods, and the perceived age-relevance of these.

According to the research, results found that the older an Australian was, the more likely they would be to identify dementia as important, with 17.2 per cent of people aged 60 years or over classifying it as important, and only 5.1 per cent of those aged 40-59 and 2.1 per cent of 20-39 year olds giving it the same importance. The most common perceived contributor to the risk of dementia was mental activity, followed by physical activity and healthy eating. The study also observed that women and those in contact with a person with dementia were more likely to understand preventative health measures.

Overall the study found that many Australians do not regard dementia as a health priority, despite statistics showing its increasing global burden. According to research, studies have shown that by implementing positive health changes at a mid-life age, the intervention into the risk of dementia is quite possible.  It found encouraging however that more than half of respondents agreed that health promotion behaviours to reduce dementia risk should begin before the age of 40.

It declared that the 5.1 per cent of 40-59 year olds who saw dementia as important was a worryingly low statistic, and that “the potential for the risk of dementia to be reduced is central to the public health message about this condition, and while a substantial proportion of Australians were found to have adopted this understanding, the majority are yet to do so”.

The authors propose that action be taken to increase awareness to contradict beliefs that propose dementia is an inevitable part of ageing, and to educate the public that, like a number of vascular health conditions, the risk can be reduced through health promotion action.

The study concluded by stating it provided a strong case for dementia risk reduction and brain health to be given greater attention in public health education efforts, and for dementia to be given a higher profile in existing strategies to tackle physical activity, unhealthy eating and other vascular risk behaviours.

Have a full read of the study here.

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