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There are currently more than 413,000 Australians currently living with dementia with a cost to the economy of $14.67 billion in 2017 alone. Without a major research breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia is set to increase to approximately 1.1 million by 2056, with an estimated cost to the economy of $36.85 billion.
With no cause or cure currently available, research grants are vital to bringing us closer to finding meaningful interventions and a better understanding of dementia to improve future outcomes for people living with dementia, their carers and family.
It is only through the generosity of our supporters that the AADRF is able to grow capacity in dementia research through funding Australia’s best and brightest early career researchers.
These are researchers who are dedicated to better understanding the causes of dementia and developing innovative strategies to improve the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of this life limiting condition.
The 2014 round of grants saw Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health’s, Karra Harrington awarded an Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation (AADRF) PhD Scholarship. Ms Harrington has since used the funds to complete her PhD project Evaluation of Psychological Models of Cognitive Ageing: Modifiers of cognitive trajectories in healthy older adults.
Through her research, Ms Harrington has discovered that when measuring age-related decline in cognitive function there appears to be little to no deterioration, and it commences at an older age than previously estimated – in the seventies rather than the sixties.
The results show that cognitive decline in older adults is evident only on complex neuropsychological tests, while performance on simpler neuropsychological tests is relatively stable throughout late life.
Ms Harrington said that previous studies had a more lax approach to screening measures and were likely to have included individuals with cognitive impairments not caused from the normal ageing process such as early dementia, medical conditions or excessive alcohol consumption.
“Normal ageing appears to be associated with some subtle changes in the speed of problem solving and when learning new information, however the accuracy of decisions does not deteriorate,” she said.
“It is normal at any age to have occasional memory lapses, especially when we are tired or not concentrating and these should not be cause for concern.
“However, it is not normal to become more forgetful as a result of ageing. Consistent forgetfulness where the information doesn’t come back later could be a sign that something abnormal is impacting on memory or other abilities and should be investigated by a medical professional.”
“My research reiterates the need to enhance the early detection and diagnosis of cognitive changes that are associated with disease and dementia.”
The AADRF PhD Scholarships are available to citizens or permanent residents of Australia or New Zealand citizens living in Australia, who have recently enrolled or intend to enrol in a full-time PhD program. Click here for more information or to apply.
For information on the symptoms and signs of dementia visit the Alzheimer’s Australia website. Dementia Australia also offers support, information, education and counselling. Contact the National Dementia Helpline, an Australian Government Initiative: 1800 100 500.
Karra Harrington received an Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation (AADRF) PhD Scholarship in 2014. This project incorporated data from and provided data for the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) study. Click here to read more about Karra Harrington’s PhD project.
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