Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have some of the poorest health outcomes of indigenous populations globally, with higher rates of injury, mental health conditions, chronic disease and dementia.
A new Australian study, recently published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, has found that high levels of childhood stress and hardship may be linked to the higher rates of dementia found amongst indigenous Australians.
The research team, led by Dr Kylie Radford of Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney, recruited 336 indigenous Australians from New South Wales aged between 60 and 92 to complete a life course survey known as the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ).
The questionnaire captured a range of childhood experiences, assessing the frequency of both positive (loving, supportive family environment) and negative (neglect, abuse) experiences using a ‘point based’ scale.
After analysing all results and factoring in other health related disorders, the researchers found participants who had high childhood stress scores were more likely to have gone through depression, anxiety and suicide attempts, with many having received a diagnosis of dementia, more specifically Alzheimer’s disease.
Therefore, the results indicate that childhood stress amongst indigenous Australians appears to have a significant impact on emotional health and increased rates of dementia in later life.
The research team is now aiming to undertake further studies to explore why this might be the case.
Dr Kylie Radford said in a statement that the ongoing effects of childhood stress need to be recognised as people grow older, particularly in terms of dementia prevention and care, as well as amongst populations with greater exposure to childhood adversity, such as indigenous Australian populations.
This study also reiterates that greater support for parents, recognition and treatment of childhood trauma and post-traumatic stress disorders, enhanced education services for indigenous Australians and further awareness of these issues for dementia caregivers and service providers, are some of the components that could assist in bringing down the rates of dementia found amongst indigenous Australians.
This research also contributes to a growing body of evidence suggesting adverse early life events increase dementia risk in older age. In the June edition of Dementia Now we reported on how negative family relationships during early life can be linked to dementia in later life. You can read the article by clicking here.
You can also view the Aboriginal Australia study by clicking here.