Better care for dementia patients through new funding

April 02, 2008

With Australia's ageing population, diseases like dementia are on the rise. And, thanks to $1.7 million in recent grants, The University of Queensland will be at the forefront of research dealing with a range of dementia-related issues.

Three UQ research teams have won National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding for studies into dementia, spanning care in hospitals, transitions to residential care and ascertaining the capacity of people with dementia to make decisions about their finances.

The UQ researchers who have obtained funding are Associate Professor Nancy Pachana ($547,250), Professor Len Gray ($516,698) and Professor Helen Chenery ($648,360), each leading teams combining health and social science expertise.

Dr Pachana's research deals with developing a proven method to help the Office of the Adult Guardian determine financial capacity in people with dementia, particularly where there are allegations of fiscal abuse.

"This process is often stressful for the older person, and having family members manage the older person's assets may result in family conflict," Dr Pachana said.

The outcome of the research would aid health and legal professionals, guardianship boards and tribunals, as well as people with dementia and their family members, she said.

Professor Gray's project will investigate issues surrounding acute hospital care of people with dementia, to identify the specific needs of patients with dementia to inform better hospital design and treatment.

He said people with dementia were more prone to acute illnesses due to falls, strokes, heart failures and infections but they traditionally did not do well in clinical environments.

"Hospitals appear to be unfriendly environments for these people, exposing them to the risk of anxiety, delirium, disturbed behaviour and injury. They therefore require specialist care," Professor Gray said.

"This study will examine the current use of hospitals by people with dementia, including the frequency of cases, their outcomes and the staff and carers' perspectives of the issues, with a view to designing better future care."

Focusing on the potentially traumatic transition of dementia patients from home to residential care, Professor Chenery and her colleagues aim to develop an intervention program for dementia patients in both metropolitan and rural Queensland that focuses on positive communication and memory strategies.

The program would maximise dementia patients' ability to learn and retain functional skills to preserve the health and wellbeing of both people with dementia and their caregivers, she said.

"Previous models of care in dementia have tended to focus on single skill areas," Professor Chenery said.

"The key innovation in this project is that it brings together researchers from speech pathology, psychology, nursing and psychiatry to develop an interdisciplinary intervention targeted at the intersection between memory and language."
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These three grants take to four the number of NHMRC Dementia Research Grants awarded to UQ researchers. UQ was awarded a first-round dementia grant of $530,000 in 2007 for a study led by Associate Professor Gerard Byrne into anxiety and depression in dementia patients.

Research Australia

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