What is dementia?

Dementia is not a single disease but rather a term to describe a number of illnesses that predominantly affect people over the age of 65. Dementias are progressive brain disorders that affect a person’s ability to function normally. The condition results in the degeneration of brain cells, with common symptoms including memory loss (particularly recent memory), confusion, personality change, withdrawal and a loss of ability to do everyday tasks.

Alzheimer’s disease, which initially affects the areas in the temporal lobe that control memory, accounts for 50 to 70 per cent of all dementia cases. Other common types of dementia are vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, dementia with lewy bodies, fronto-temporal lobar degeneration, Huntington’s disease, alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

Ageing dementia is one of the country’s most pressing health problems. Alzheimer’s affects more than two-thirds of dementia patients, and approximately a quarter of a million Australians. The total number of dementia cases in Australia is expected to rise to 1 million by 2050. It presents significant challenges to the health care system, which makes directed research programs aimed at preventing and treating ageing dementia all the more urgent.

Types of dementia

 Alzheimer's disease

 Vascular dementia 

Who gets dementia?

Dementia affects around 10 per cent of people over the age of 65 and 35 per cent of people aged over 85, and is of growing concern as the world’s population ages.

Stages of dementia

There are four key stages in dementia. The first stage involves being unable to remember everyday tasks while in the second phase patients are more likely to accept the condition. By the third phase people may become fixated on earlier memories and in the final stage, patients tend to withdraw completely.

Is there a cure for dementia?

Currently there is no prevention or cure for dementia. However, some medications can reduce some of the symptoms.

QBI dementia research

Research conducted at the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CJCADR) is focused on developing outputs that can alter the clinical trajectory of individuals with dementia and those that are as yet undiagnosed. The research undertaken by CJCADR elucidates, at a biochemical, molecular, behavioural, electrophysiological and histological and systems level, how ageing dementia causes neurodegeneration as well as the decline of memory and also, motor functions. This is complemented by studies into physiological ageing. The Centre uses as experimental systems mainly tissue culture cells and genetically modified mice and worms.

The Centre further pursues novel strategies to reduce the burden of dementia. A major outcome is the discovery of therapeutic interventions to delay the onset, prevent and even cure dementia in patients, using novel drugs and better methods to deliver them to the brain. Another outcome is the development of biomarkers to diagnose dementia earlier, more cheaply and with higher sensitivity and specificity, and to monitor therapeutic interventions. Finally, lifestyle strategies will be formulated for maintaining a healthy brain.

Breakthrough research in the Götz laboratory is proceeding with work to treat Alzheimer's using ultrasound technology, bringing hope to the hundreds of thousands of Australians currently with the illness.

Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CJCADR)

To build on the discoveries of QBI, Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CJCADR) was established in early 2012. CJCADR is Australia's only dedicated centre for ageing dementia research. The Centre's inaugural director is Professor Jürgen Götz.