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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places

Dementia risk higher for Indigenous Australians abused or part of Stolen Generations

Date posted: 4 September 2017

Like his seven surviving siblings, 76-year-old Claude Timbery is sharp and enjoying life with no sign of dementia. Other than a pair of dicky knees, he has few health problems and enjoys the weekly 'yarn up' at the local Aboriginal community centre.

But Mr Timbery's in-laws weren't as fortunate. Far too many have developed dementia including Alzheimer's. His daughter Alison Timbery said she had a cousin whose mother developed dementia who had been part of the Stolen Generations.

New research has found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with high rates of childhood trauma, including those who were forcibly removed from their families are nearly three times more likely to develop dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease, than others. 

Dementia expert Kylie Radford, who led the research published in the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, says she hopes the study could go some way to explaining why the rate of dementia in Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is three to four times greater than the broader community, and often occurs earlier in life. This rate of dementia is higher than observed in any other population in the world.

As part of the Koori Growing Old Well Study, researchers are tracking the health of 336 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 60 to 92 from Sydney, including La Perouse and Campbelltown, and the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

This study aims to determine the link between dementia and participants childhoods, including Mr Timbery. Participants were asked to answer questions about their lives before they turned 15. Called the childhood trauma questionnaire (CTQ), the survey is designed to determine if participants had suffered emotional neglect or abuse or whether their childhoods had been happy and loving.

One in four had experienced high rates of trauma compared with one in 10 in the broader community, said Dr Radford, a clinical neuro-psychologist at Neuroscience Research Australia and a dementia research fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.  

After controlling for depression and anxiety, both of which increase the risk of dementia, they found a strong independent association between dementia and childhood trauma, said Dr Radford.

'If you are in the top 25 per cent of people - with extreme scores - your likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia is nearly three times higher compared with someone in the bottom 75% in what we consider to be a fairly normal range,' she said. 

Dementia in the Indigenous community was widespread and awareness was growing, said Darryl Wright, the Chief Executive of Campbelltown's Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation and a co-investigator of the project.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald


Last updated: 4 September 2017
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