Prof Susan Kurrle

Our Community Care Advisor, Nuala Williams, is always impressed when she hears a talk by geriatrician and dementia expert Prof Susan Kurrle. The following points are among those Nuala gleaned from the voluble expert’s recent talk on dementia.

  • Dementia is childhood development, backwards – you lose your abilities in the same order you gained them.
  • Our risk of getting dementia is 36%. If you have a parent or sibling with a diagnosis, the risk only increases to 39%. Yet the World Alzheimer Report (Sept. 2019) found a staggering 95% of people think they will develop dementia in their lifetime.
  • It is however the leading cause of death for women and the second cause of death for men after heart disease.
  • At age 65, one person in 12 has dementia; at age 80, one in four has dementia; half of 90 year-olds have it. It’s the leading cause of disability in people aged under 65: about 25,000 people under 65 have dementia.
  • In 2019, 440,000 people were diagnosed with dementia, Australia wide. By 2050, it will be 900,000.

There are many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s can show up in your brain up to 30 years before you know you have it – and now there’s much research and many results about earlier, easier ways to diagnose it and therefore help prevent it.  Other types include vascular, also a mixture of vascular and Alzheimer’s that can follow stroke. There are also dementia with Lewy Bodies, frontotemperal dementa, dementia that often accompanies Parkinson’s, and alcohol-related and brain trauma-related dementia.

Modifiable risk factors

Only a few more than one third of us get dementia and the good news is that as many as one third of those cases could be prevented by ordinary, very achievable activities such as more education, physical activity and social contact. So dementia is far from inevitable, and you can make it even less likely.

Hearing loss is a huge factor for dementia because when people socialise less because they’re not able to join conversations, then they become isolated and miss out on vital social interaction which is good mental stimulation.  SO WEAR HEARING AIDS if you need them.  The diagnoses of up to one-third of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can be related to:

  • Diabetes (4%)
  • Obesity (7%)
  • Low level of cognitive activity (7%)
  • Hypertension (8%)
  • Depression (11%)
  • Smoking (11%)
  • Physical inactivity (21%). Young people with dementia can include exercise in their NDIS Package.

Residential care for people with dementia

A three-year study of 541 older people across 17 facilities in three states by Flinders University found that the “cottage” or homelike model of care where smaller numbers of residents share a home and outdoor area, and can help with gardening, cooking and serve themselves meals, showed significantly higher quality of life and fewer medical presentations and lower psychotropic drug use. The Flinders Study, called Inspired, looked at quality of care, quality of life, number of hospital admissions, number of GP consults and medication. You can read the study here

Prof Kurrle’s mother has dementia and lives in cottage-style care on the upper north shore. She suggests families considering residential care look at a little more risk at home and support options for staying at home rather than removing a person from their home, garden and pets they love to keep them ‘safe’ in ordinary residential care. She recommends as an excellent resource for families and carers.

Professor Kurrle holds the Curran Chair in Health Care of Older People in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney and is also a geriatrician at Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital in Northern Sydney and at Batemans Bay and Moruya Hospitals in Southern NSW. See more on Prof Kurrle at

If you  would like to know more about your support options at home or about navigating the My Aged Care system and available services, please call our Community Care Advisor on  (02) 9427 6425 or email