Dementia Australia is funding a project that will use ‘yarning circles’ to develop culturally appropriate assessments for people in the Torres Strait who are living with dementia.

Dr Leander Mitchell

Dr Leander Mitchell and a team from the University of Queensland and James Cook University will use the $75,000 Dementia Australia Research Foundation grant to develop tools to measure depression and anxiety among this group.

As reported by Community Care Review recently, Dementia rates among Torres Strait communities are up to three times higher than in the general population.

A study published in the Australasian Journal of Ageing last November assessed 276 people across all 18 island and mainland communities in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area of Far North Queensland between May 2015 and February 2018, and found the prevalence of dementia in was 14.2 per cent – 2.87 times higher than the wider Australian population.

High rates of depression and anxiety

Rates of depression and anxiety are also higher in First Nations populations, Dr Mitchell says.

“Thinking and memory problems can be present in all of these conditions but without accurate information, it can be difficult to work out whether symptoms are due to dementia or a psychological disorder,” she says.

Dr Mitchell says clinicians have access to a range of assessment tools for use in the general community, there are no culturally appropriate measures for use in the Torres Strait.

This can increase the risk of getting a wrong diagnosis which can result in people getting the wrong treatment for the wrong condition.

“These tools have to be acceptable to Torres Strait people and also measure depression and anxiety accurately,” she says.

“Doctors and health workers can then use these tools when assessing someone with thinking and memory problems to help them work out if the person has dementia or a psychological disorder, and therefore what treatment is needed.”

Developing a questionnaire

Dr Mitchell says as part of the project the research team will hold “yarning” or dialogue” circles with members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait community to understand how they define anxiety and depression.

They will then draw on experts in the field to develop those discussions into a questionnaire.

“The list will then be provided to members of the ATSI population to see what they they think and see houw useful the questionnaires are when used with people with anxiety and depression,” they project description says. 

“We hope to create measures of depression and anxiety that will do a better job of identifying these diagnoses in members of the ATSI population.”

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