The Indigenous Population Is Getting Dementia At Three Times The Rate Of Other Australians

A detail as Prince William shakes hands with a Aboriginal man. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Australia’s indigenous population is getting dementia at a rate three times that of non-indigenous residents, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr Shu Qin Li, senior epidemiologist with the Northern Territory Department of Health, and his team analysed data for 784 dementia cases diagnosed between January 2008 and December 2011.

The researchers found that dementia occurred earlier, about age 72, than the non-Indigenous population (age 79).

The results are consistent with studies in Western Australia’ Pilbara and with work being conducted in New South Wales.

There are a number of factors across the life span of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people likely to affect this disturbing trend, experts say.

One factor may be high rates of intellectual disability in children, about double the rate of other residents, recently identified in the Kimberley region.

Early health risk factors include higher rates of obstetric complications in young mothers, low-birth weight babies, childhood malnutrition and retarded growth along with reduced participation in education.

“NT has the fastest growing older population of all Australian states, and the prevalence of dementia in NT will continue to increase”, Dr Li wrote.

“The finding of early onset and high incidence of dementia suggests that the burden of dementia among the NT Indigenous population will continue to increase, along with both the increase in number of older Indigenous people and improved life expectancy.

He says large-scale population studies are needed in Australia to better understand the burden, regional variation and social costs.

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