What is it that helps one person age successfully and cause another to develop age-related diseases like dementia? Scientifically, we know too little about normal ageing and what factors influence some people and not others to develop diseases that affect the brain.
Only by studying healthy elderly people, as well as those with problems, can we know what normal ageing looks like. We can also learn what activities, lifestyles and other factors are important for staying healthy as we age.
Very little is currently known about how Australian Aboriginal people age. What we do know is that rates of dementia in Aboriginal Australians living in remote and rural areas are up to five times higher than the rest of the Australian population. Almost nothing is known about the prevalence of dementia in urban Aboriginal communities.
Through the Koori Growing Old Well Study we are exploring healthy ageing and cognition in urban Aboriginal communities in New South Wales, in particular looking at how life events affect healthy ageing.
Events that occur throughout our lives may have an effect on how well we age.
Examples of early life factors that could affect physical health and brain function later in life are issues arising during pregnancy and birth, early life events and illnesses, education and parenting.
Mid-life factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, obesity, heart and lung disease, alcohol and drug use and education, job experience and training.
Later life factors include cognitive changes due to age, dementia, the impact of the life expectancy gap and access to aged care services.
The Broe Group focuses on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians and how best to support their cognitive health in older age. An important part of this work involves finding the best ways to ensure people gain access to the health services they need.
By liaising with Aboriginal communities and representatives, we have identified that there is enormous interest amongst Aboriginal people in understanding the scope of age related diseases like dementia in their communities.
Through the Koori Growing Old Well Study, we are gathering information from approximately 500 Aboriginal people aged 60 years and above living in cities, smaller towns and country areas in New South Wales.
The aim of our research is to look at healthy ageing in its wider social context and investigate what services can support improvements in Aboriginal health, especially in older people.
Through the Koori Growing Old Well Study, we are exploring healthy ageing and memory, as well as the prevalence and incidence of age-related diseases like dementia in urban Aboriginal populations in NSW.
This includes looking into the potential associations between age related diseases like dementia and a range of other factors including health status, education, experience of discrimination and childhood events.