Pioneering research into improving dementia care for Aboriginal Australians has been featured in Ten of the Best Research Projects 2012 - a publication that showcases the work of some of the nation's top medical researchers.
Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek this week recognised The University of Western Australia affiliate, the WA Centre for Health and Ageing (WACHA), for its project in the Kimberley community of Looma, 120km south-east of Derby.
Dr Dina LoGiudice, a Melbourne geriatrician, led the WACHA project to create a culturally and linguistically appropriate tool to assess levels of dementia in the community where many people were illiterate, had only a few years of schooling or spoke many languages with English as their third or fourth language.
Dr LoGiudice said life expectancy for Indigenous Australians was 17 years less than for non-Indigenous Australians. Risk factors known to contribute to dementia - including obesity, mid-life hypertension and diabetes - occur at a higher rate and at an earlier age among Indigenous Australians.
A study of more than 360 people aged over 45 in the Kimberley found that 12.4 per cent suffered from dementia: five times the rate among non-Indigenous Australians, she said.
Dr LoGiudice's year-long pilot work in Looma involved a project developed by the community, for the community. It employed local people who were trained to care for the frail aged and those with disabilities and mental illness - a shift from the old model of external service providers providing hands-on care.
Ten of the Best Research Projects 2012 is published by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
"This success is due in large part to the hard-working team and colleagues involved. I feel it's a team honour," Dr LoGiudice said.
WACHA Director Winthrop Professor Leon Flicker said Dr Dina LoGiudice and her team were leaders in remote and rural Indigenous health.
"I am really pleased that her tireless efforts over a long period of time have been acknowledged," Professor Flicker said. "This award is great news for Dr LoGiudice, the team and the people's lives who have benefited from this research."
Photo: Left to Right: Research Officer Geraldine Shadforth, Project Manager Dr Kate Smith and Winthrop Professor Leon Flicker