A new dementia initiative aims to cut recruitment time for trials from the current waiting period of three years to just six months, the man at its helm says.
Professor Christopher Rowe of Austin Health will lead the ADNet program announced by aged care minister Ken Wyatt last week. In an interview with Community Care Review he admitted he faced a “daunting” task.
The ADNet dementia network will establish a network of “one-stop shops” around the country to diagnose, advise, connect patients and their families with relevant agencies and begin treatment, Professor Rowe said.
The network will also establish a large-scale national dementia registry which will drive research into treatments for the devastating cognitive disorder which affects some 450,000 Australians, as well as those who care for them and provide services and support.
“That number’s increasing as we age, so it’s a huge problem,” Professor Rowe said.
He said AdNet had two main objectives: ensuring the best care for people with a diagnosis, and finding a treatment.
Professor Rowe said memory disorder clinics already exist around the country, but while Victoria has been a leader in setting up and funding the “memory centre” model most remain independent and relatively small in scope. ADNet aims to coordinate and standardise these centres.
“At the moment most people don’t access a memory specialist because there are so many patients developing dementia and the waiting times are long,” he said.
“So a lot of people are just diagnosed by a GP without access to supports and advanced diagnostic skills and experience.”
Having a coordinated network will also provide a ready pool of people to participate in studies and help fast-track preparation for trials, as well as making it easier for Australia to collaborate in international research.
“We really want to try and get a treatment, that’s what we’re crying out for,” Professor Rowe said.
“We aim reduce to recruitment time from the current three years for an average Alzheimer’s trial down to six months, and find out whether treatments are working or not much quicker.”
Professor Rowe said he hopes to tackle the two biggest questions in dementia research: whether removing amyloid from the brain will stop the disease progressing, and whether the drugs that are designed to do this are working.
ADNet will also help carers and service providers by giving them a better idea of what to expect in terms of prognosis and behavior once a dementia diagnosis has been made, he said.
The next step is to ensure better access to community support and aged care assessment services for when help is needed in the home.
“There’s a bit of confusion in the system, and difficulty accessing what is available – there’s limitations to how much you can get at the moment in terms of home care,” he told CCR.
“Apart from the obvious thing, that we don’t have a treatment, the number one deficiency (is) getting the support to people to keep the patient at home as long as possible.”
Dementia Australia has welcomed the initiative. “ADNet will enable dementia researchers, clinicians, health service providers, industry and most significantly, people living with dementia, their families and carers to work smarter together,” CEO Maree McCabe said.