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Dementia research dollars have increased: NHMRC

Figures released show spend on dementia research has increased this decade, but Alzheimer’s Australia says it’s still not enough. Darragh O Keeffe reports.

The spend on research funding into Alzheimer’s and other dementias has increased tenfold since 2000, new figures from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) show.

The NHMRC’s research funding into dementia was $2.6 million in 2000. This year, the spend had increased to $22.7 million, the figures released to Nursing Review show.

However, the increase in spending from 2009 to 2010 was a modest $731,555, compared to the increase of $4.2 million from 2008 to 2009.

Alzheimer’s Australia, who has previously criticised the low spend on dementia research compared to other chronic health conditions, said it was is pleased to see a number of research fellowships and project grants awarded to Australian scientists and practitioners involved in dementia research.

However, it remains a significant concern that dementia research is grossly under-funded in comparison to other chronic diseases.

“NHMRC funding for dementia research has increased over the past 10 years, and this is pleasing to see. However, the total is still negligible, at just over 3 per cent of the $715 million in research funding that will be distributed by the NHMRC in 2010-11,” CEO Glenn Rees said.

“Dementia is currently the single largest cause of disability amongst Australians aged 65 and over, and health and medical spending on dementia is projected to outstrip that of any other condition by 2060. Given these figures, it is hard to see the necessary commitment on the part of the Government to tackling the dementia epidemic by investing in research into prevention, risk reduction, and eventually, a cure.”

In the Oct/Nov issue of INsite, Rees highlighted the low spend of research dollars on dementia.

He pointed out that the level of dementia research spending in Australia from 2000 to 2007 was tenfold less than cancer, despite the prevalence, disability burden and healthcare costs associated with dementia.

Rees said the NHMRC’s strategic plan for 2010-2012, which was released in May, was a further disappointment. While it included aged care, it didn’t specifically mention dementia.

Somewhat bizarrely, because dementia is a ‘national health priority’ but not a ‘national health priority area’, it doesn’t attract the same priority research dollars as other chronic diseases like cancer and asthma, he said.

Announcing the most recent NHMRC funding, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said dementia care was one area that would benefit from the most recent injection of funds.

Butler cited Sharon Andrews, a nursing researcher from the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, who has been awarded a $124,000 Translating Research in to Practice Fellowship to extend her work in improving the quality of care for nursing home patients with dementia. She will focus on ways to build better staff-family relationships.

“With the ageing population and changing family structures around us, it is easy to see how stronger relationships have the potential to improve quality of life for elderly residents while providing emotional support to the family,” Butler said.

That announcement of $127 million followed $450 million worth of NHMRC health and medical research grants announced in Melbourne the week previous.

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