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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4140


Mr IRONS (Swan) (21:17): I second the motion. Today I rise to support the motion put forward by the member for Kingston that this House recognises the devastating impact of early onset dementia on the lives of the sufferers and their families. The member for Kingston and I both served on the health and ageing committee in the last parliament and I know that she has a genuine concern for many health related issues and I congratulate her for bringing this motion forward.

In part 2(a) of the motion put by the member for Kingston she notes that individuals who suffer from early onset dementia often face unique challenges. including the challenges of obtaining an accurate and early diagnoses and finding appropriate accommodation. I would like to inform the house that a test to diagnose early onset dementia has been developed by University of New South Wales researchers. The test will relieve patients and their families of the trauma and guesswork of misdiagnosis and make sure they get access to the right resources.

Frontotemporal dementia, FTD, is the second most common form of dementia in younger people and yet it is commonly misdiagnosed. It may also be much more common in those who are over 65 than is currently believed. Sydney is estimated to have at least 1,000 people with FTD and many of whom do not know that they have the condition. Professor John Hodges, who is based at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute has said:

These patients have typically had the condition for three to five years and they have seen a number of specialists before they come to us. This type of dementia can affect people in two ways—either through changes in personality and social behaviour or through loss of vocabulary. Behavioural changes include apathy, which is sometimes diagnosed as depression, loss of empathy and disinhibition. Those with loss of vocabulary and memory for words might be labelled as having Alzheimer's disease. It is essential that people are diagnosed correctly for a number of reasons. While there is no cure for FTD, there are drugs which can alleviate some of the behaviours, such as disinhibition and overeating.

There are also a number of gene mutations that can result in FTD that have been discovered in the last few years. Professor Hodges and his team want to screen for gene abnormalities if there is a strong family history of dementia. He said:

We can also help support the families who care for people with FTD. This disorder is particularly traumatic for families because they are left caring for someone who is robbed of their original personality. In many cases, the patients can't recognise emotions in others. There is very little awareness about FTD and it's very difficult to diagnose without sophisticated brain imaging. We hope this test will be used by professionals working in memory clinics, neurologists, geriatricians and psychiatrists.

In September last year the ABC reported new research that suggests that up to a fifth of all cases of early-onset dementia could be alcohol related, nearly twice the figure suggested by earlier estimates. Drug and alcohol experts say that the figures are a worry and may reflect an increase in binge drinking among young people. They say that too many people underestimate the long-term health effects of alcohol abuse.

Recently in WA it was reported in the West Australian that public health leaders have rejected calls for the alcohol industry to be part of a new alliance formed to tackle binge drinking among young people, saying it would be unable to be objective. But the WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition is an alliance of 63 community and health organisations convened by Fiona Stanley and Professor Mike Daube. This coalition realises that binge drinking is one of the most damaging practices in our society to people of all ages but particularly the young.

Dr Adrienne Withall from the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre from the University of New South Wales says that studies done across hospitals in NSW of people with young onset dementia suggest about 20 per cent of cases are alcohol related. Dr Withall says that it is clear that there is a link between sustained drinking and increased incidence of early onset dementia. However, she says that the link between binge drinking and dementia is less obvious. She said:

We're talking really about sustained drinking. I think given the increasing prevalence for people to binge drink, we just don't know enough about what it's going to do in the future. But when it comes to sustained drinking and the kind of daily drinking, we're talking about for men around about 35 standard drinks a week and for women about 28 standard drinks a week over a period of about five years.

Australian National Council on Drugs chairman Dr John Herron says he agrees that more research is needed, but says binge drinking is the most likely cause. He said:

Alcohol's basically a poison. It affects the liver and it also affects the brain, but it diffuses the brain. When you get strokes or blood vessel clotting occurring in the brain, that part of the brain is affected. Another part of the brain can take over the function of that other [part]—this is called neuroplasticity—but with alcohol it affects all brain cells.

Dr Herron says research has shown that while alcohol affects some parts of the brain more frequently than others it does affect the whole of the brain.