Studies key to taming dementia epidemic

The number of Australians who will develop dementia by 2050 could be cut by one-third if research breakthroughs can delay its onset by just five years, new research shows.

New medicines to delay the progress of major diseases that lead to dementia are under trial but research efforts are more difficult than hoped.

Alzheimer's Australia yesterday used the findings of its new report to renew calls for an extra $200 million to be put into dementia research over the next four years.

The report, prepared by the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre at the University of NSW, shows that even small breakthroughs - delaying the onset by two or five years - could dramatically reduce the number of people who contract the disease.

Almost 900,000 people will live with dementia in 2050, about three times the current number.

But if researchers find a way to delay the onset by two years, and it is put into practice in 2020, it could reduce the number of people developing dementia by almost 400,000.

Professor Richard Fleming, director of the NSW/ACT Dementia Training Study Centre, based at the University of Wollongong, said there was no doubt that a cure for dementia could only be discovered through "serious and expensive research". But he said "much can be done right now" to improve the lives of those living with dementia, their relatives and carers "by applying the findings from research already available into environmental design and relationship-based activities for people with dementia".

"A lot of research has already been conducted into psycho-social and environmental interventions for mitigating the effects of dementia, including agitation and confusion," Prof Fleming said yesterday.

"Sadly, many of these positive findings remain in academic journals and go unnoticed by practitioners.

"The translation of existing research findings into practice is as important as conducting new research.

"If we were applying the information we have ... the quality of life of people with dementia would be greatly increased," Professor Fleming said.

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