Carolyn Winkler knows more about dementia than most.
Her 96-year-old mother suffers from it. So does her brother. And her ex-husband.
“It’s really hard when you see your loved ones afflicted,” she says. “I have two grandkids, as well. Given the strong genetic component, I do worry.”
Carolyn visits her mother, Lillias, in her nursing home every day.
“I never know what to expect. Is she going to be happy? Is she going to be sad? Will she remember me?” she reflects.
Two-thirds of dementia sufferers are women; it’s the third leading cause of death in this country.
So, Carolyn has decided to do something about it.
Fortunately, she works in the Australian Medicines Industry, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather.
A recent survey of 5000 Australians aged between 32 and 66, commissioned by the industry, lists dementia as one of our top three health concerns.
The preliminary findings of the Facing the Health of Australians report reveal we fear dementia more than diabetes, obesity or depression.
“Dementia is right up there with our biggest fears,” the Quality Use of Medicines Director says. “That really resonates with me. It’s of great concern to all Australians.”
According to the survey, more than 70 per cent of us would actively seek a vaccination if one were available.
“Nothing at this point in time is going to cure it,” Carolyn admits.
Currently there are 93 clinical trials underway globally, with the Australian medicines industry investing more than $71 million annually.
Next year, Australia is part of a worldwide study, involving industry and academia, to determine whether they can prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Concurrently, the Fight Dementia Campaign is seeking $200 million over five years in the 2013 Federal Budget.
“For too long, dementia has been thought of as a natural part of ageing, instead of a chronic health disease alongside cancer and heart disease,” says Glenn Rees, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia.
The problem is, there are many different types of dementia.
For Carolyn’s mother, it developed slowly.
Her brother’s dementia was much more aggressive.
“Robert was a high-flyer,” she says, “then, he just cracked.”
Now, she’s on a mission to put more money into research and development.
The number of Australians with dementia is projected to rise by one-third within 10 years.
Three million people will develop the condition between 2012 and 2050.
“Thank God we’ve got the industry working on future treatments,” Carolyn says. “There’s great hope out there that we can help people, like my family, who are suffering.”
Meanwhile, Carolyn holds her loved ones close, and hopes her children, and grandchildren, don’t suffer the same fate.