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Researchers uncover key factors that help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to age well

Researchers have released a new report showcasing how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are successfully avoiding dementia and protecting their brain health.

The Sharing the Wisdom of Our Elders report by Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) details the findings of a six-year study with Elders across Aboriginal communities to identify the key factors that help Indigenous Australians thrive as they age.

The report is the output of a project funded by the Lowitja Institute after NeuRA research found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians develop dementia about 10 years earlier than the general population.  Alarmingly, the rate of dementia is about 300 to 500 percent higher among Indigenous Australians.

In producing the report, NeuRA researchers interviewed over 115 older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban (Sydney) and rural (mid-north coast) NSW communities, as well as local health and aged care services.

“Our findings show one of the key factors that helps Aboriginal people to age well is culture, which includes having strong relationships with families and communities, maintaining and imparting knowledge of Country, showing respect, and remaining resilient,” said Dr Kylie Radford, the project’s team leader at NeuRA.

“This was highlighted alongside other well-established factors for health, longevity and dementia prevention, such as education, exercise and good diet,” she said.

NeuRA researchers are presenting the findings of the report at an event in Coffs Harbor on 12 February where they will discuss with community representatives the importance of protecting brain health across the lifespan.

“Around the world, there is growing recognition that efforts to reduce the rates of dementia in later life need to start earlier on in life,” said Dr Kylie Radford.

“Our Elders are the precious custodians of the cultural determinants, which are vital to the health and wellbeing of our communities. They are the legacy holders who make a present, dynamic and critical contribution to the flourishing of our peoples,” said Janine Mohamed, CEO of the Lowitja Institute.

“Overall I think this project is an excellent way for our Elders to tell us in their words what growing old well means to them. It also highlights the need for better aged care services for our people,” said Terry Donovan, Gumbaynggirr/Biripi Elder and NeuRA researcher.

“In our Aboriginal culture, Elders are an important, invaluable and intrinsic link spanning across time, where they are connected to the past, they exist in the present and they administer wisdom for the future,” said Glenny Naden, a contributing artist in the project.

The Sharing the Wisdom of Our Elders report is available here. For more information please visit www.neura.edu.au/sharingthewisdom.