With researchers working around the world to develop effective treatments for dementia, the unfortunate truth is that there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. Available medications may reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for some, but they do not stop the disease’s progress.
The disease is also becoming more prevalent, and in the absence of any significant developments in terms of a cure, even conservative estimates suggest there will be 900,000 Australians with dementia by 2050. This equates to the staggering number of 7,400 new cases each week.
According to Maree McCabe, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria, one new case of Alzheimer’s is registered approximately every six minutes in Australia.
Furthermore, 25,000 people are annually diagnosed with Younger Onset Dementia, affecting individuals under the age of 65, including people as young as 30.
Neos Kosmos has previously investigated issues arising from the increase in dementia cases within the Greek community, and it is essential to see how these new figures will impact our elders and those around them.
Jim Scantsonihas, Fronditha Care’s general manager of operations, said that a total of 53,201 retirement-aged individuals of Greek heritage are currently living in Victoria. Of this total, 34,145 were born in Greece – and half of them are likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s.
“The numbers of Greek background patients are staggering,” Mr Scantsonihas tells Neos Kosmos, adding that “more than 50 per cent of residents in government-subsidised facilities have dementia”.
The federal government is providing an additional $200 million for dementia research over the next five years, making it the third largest area of aged care spending.
In March, intense media coverage followed the announcement that an experimental drug slowed the decline in mental function brought on by the disease, but it is difficult to read too much into what was a small early-stage trial.
“There have been a number of Alzheimer’s disease drugs that looked promising … but unfortunately have not worked in larger trials, so we look at studies like this with cautious enthusiasm,” Mrs McCabe said.
Both Mr Scantsonihas and Mrs McCabe suggest that patients of Greek origin find it difficult to come to terms with the disease – often living in denial while their symptoms worsen, making the prognosis even more pessimistic. Meanwhile, patients of Anglo-Saxon heritage are far more likely to knock on a neurologist’s door upon noticing any possible symptoms. On average, symptoms of dementia are noticed by families three years before a professional diagnosis is made.
“There may also be a misconception that dementia is a normal part of ageing and that it is usual for older people to display these symptoms,” Mrs McCabe said.
“Part of the reason is insufficient access to bilingual doctors … as well as a lack of culturally-appropriate diagnostic tools – that can impede diagnosis for people from migrant backgrounds. The stigma associated with a diagnosis of dementia can be a barrier to people seeking advice.”
The National Cross Cultural Dementia Network, in collaboration with Fronditha and Alzheimer’s Australia, can help patients, families and carers reach an accurate diagnostic assessment, based on research which focuses on special needs of people coming from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
For information on dementia, call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. You can also access Alzheimer’s Australia Greek language help sheets at vic.fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia-and-memory-loss/information-in-other-languages/greek