Ms Smith said experts warn dementia is the epidemic of the 21st century.
Ms Smith said experts warn dementia is the epidemic of the 21st century.

SCU needs you to fight Alzheimer's

SOUTHERN Cross University researchers are seeking volunteers to help with a groundbreaking study investigating factors in the brain that contribute to the degenerative process in Alzheimer's disease.

Belinda Smith from the University's School of Health and Human Sciences, who is undertaking the project as part of a PhD in psychology, said the aim of the research was to provide evidence of a new way to detect early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease and monitor its progress.

"Eye tracking equipment has been used for the past few decades, leading to robust findings that have correlated eye movement performance with specific brain regions, the same brain regions affected in people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease," Ms Smith said.

"If we can provide for an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease we can commence treatments earlier to stabilise the degenerative process and help improve someone's quality of life.

"My study is one of the first to look at cognitive decline over time using eye tracking equipment."

The study, which has been approved by the University's Human Research Ethics Committee, is seeking participants over 65 years of age with a current diagnosis of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. A control group made up of people who are over 65 and without any neurological injury is also sought.

Two sessions, six months apart, will take place at Southern Cross University's Lismore campus. Participants will complete two short screening assessments, a series of eye movement tasks on a computer monitor and a neuropsychological assessment. The session will take approximately two hours and morning or afternoon tea will be provided. Participants with an Alzheimer's diagnosis are asked to attend with a partner, relative, friend or carer.

Ms Smith said the eye movement tasks were straightforward and similar to a visual field test.

"Eye movement tasks are non-invasive and also language-free. Individuals will simply perform eye movements by following circles on a screen.

"Through eye movement performance we can look at the cognitive control of behaviour, such as memory processes, inhibition and attention, all of which are tied into the diagnostic criteria of Alzheimer's disease."

Ms Smith said experts warn dementia is the epidemic of the 21st century.

"Worldwide there is an increase in dementia rates. Currently dementia is the third leading cause of death in Australia and by the year 2050 it is expected to rise to be the leading cause of death in this country.

"Rates are rising because of our increased life expectancy. At the moment 12 per cent of our population is aged over 65 years but that will rise to 25 per cent by 2050."

Ms Smith said the federal government had recognised Alzheimer's disease as a growing health problem and was putting more resources into researching preventative treatments and early diagnosis.

To participate in the research project, contact Belinda Smith on 02 6626 9501 and leave your details or email belinda.smith@scu.edu.au


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