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Wheeling out dementia in ageing Greek populations

Neuropsychologist Mathew Staios rides his bicycle 750km from Melbourne to Canberra to raise funds and awareness

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09 December 2016

Approximately 250,000 Greeks arrived in Australia between the 1940s and 1980s. Sixty years later, they are at high risk of developing cognitive illnesses, such as dementia. The problem is that none of the tests relating to diagnosing it are made with this population in mind, resulting in a lot of misdiagnosis.
This is why Dr Mathew Staios rode all the way to Canberra from Melbourne to raise money towards Alzheimer's research in the ageing Greek diaspora.

"I left on Sunday 27 November from Melbourne and I got there on 4 December," he tells Neos Kosmos.

"Every night I'd stop to rest after completing an average of 80 to 90 kilometres per day."

There to welcome him at the Hellenic Club of Canberra after several long days and a total of 750 kilometres were the Ambassador to Greece in Australia Ekaterini Xagorari; High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus, Her Excellency, Ioanna Malliotis; Federal Member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou MP; Steve Georganas MP, Federal Member for Hindmarsh; Professor Michael Kyrios, from the Australian National University; Viola Alexandrou and representatives of Alzheimer's Australia. Even though at times he felt his body was failing him, quitting was never an option.

"I'm a stubborn, young Greek so the thought of giving up on my cause never crossed my mind. I'm determined and this project means the world to me.

"It was emotional, exhausting, but generating awareness for this disease that's taking a toll or our community is what kept me going. It was on my mind the entire time."

His research, counting two years now with the support of Monash University, aims to develop a range of new tests to detect dementia that will hopefully bridge the gap between science and culture and produce the world's first measures to detect dementia in elderly Greeks.

His research will serve as a template and guide interventions, not just within the Greek community, but within other established migrant populations within Australia.

"Migrants are reportedly two to thee times more likely to be misdiagnosed using current tests," Dr Staios emphasises, adding that these issues stemming from wrongful assessments will be even more detrimental to our community 20 to 30 years from now.

"To me this ride was a massive accomplishment physically − I cried at the end − but what's important is helping our parents and grandparents who may be misdiagnosed because of language and cultural differences."

While Dr Staios is recovering from the ride, he is already planning to start putting the tests into practice early next year, in order to be able to publish his new diagnostic tool in 2018.

"I've managed to raise about $32,000 so far, but the goal was actually at least $45,000. Still, I am more than thankful as it was mainly everyday people who chipped in to help me raise the money," he says.

"I want to thank all the amazing individuals who got behind me, the Greek Community of Melbourne and Maria Vamvakinou in particular who's been advocating on my behalf, but we still have a long way to go."

To find out more about this initiative and help realise the diagnostic tests book, show your support here: www.i-remember.com.au

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