HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist Dr Suraj Samtani, and Senior Research Fellow Dr Simone Reppermund, are both recipients of the highly competitive Dementia Australia Research Foundation grants.

Dr Suraj Samtani - who leads an internationally collaborative research project at UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) designed to study how social, biological and psychological factors interact to predict the onset and course of dementia across the lifespan - has received a $75,000 Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration (DCRC)-DARF Pilot Grant to develop a social skills training manual specifically designed for older people with cognitive impairments. 

"People living with cognitive impairments often experience loneliness and depression. They find it difficult not only remembering things, but also engaging in conversation."

Dr Suraj Samtani, Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Clinical Psychologist

Dr Samtani explains that many older adults with cognitive impairment have difficulties recognising emotions and reacting in a socially appropriate way. Most treatments developed for dementia focus on improving memory and language. So far, there is no treatment that helps people recover or maintain social skills as their cognitive abilities decline and Dr Samtani’s group wants to change that by running focus groups with people living with cognitive impairments as well as their care partners. They will develop a social skills training manual specifically designed for older adults with cognitive impairments and run a follow up pilot study to test the effectiveness of the social skills training.

“Our hope is that people living with cognitive impairments can reconnect with others and experience the joy of socialising once again,” says Dr Samtani.

The $75,000 Hazel Hawke Research Grant in Dementia Care for Dr Simone Reppermund, a psychologist and Scientia Senior Research Fellow in the field of mental health, ageing and cognitive disorders, will support a project using big data to improve outcomes and inform strategies to prevent self-harm and suicide, in people living with dementia.

Dementia and self-harm represent substantial public health burdens in the older population, with dementia being identified as a risk factor for self-harm behaviour, particularly in older males.

"Research is needed to understand factors associated with self-harm in people with dementia to develop appropriate suicide and self-harm prevention programs."

Dr Simone Reppermund, Senior Research Fellow

“As people age, physical and mental health conditions along with social circumstances contribute to self-harm. Although contact with health services in the months before self-harm is common, little is known about these healthcare pathways that might inform prevention strategies. The growing ageing population, along with the high occurrence of dementia and self-harm in older adults, has substantial implications for the planning and equipping of health services to meet the needs of affected individuals.” 

Dr Reppermund’s study will use linked health data from NSW to understand the health problems and social circumstances of people with dementia who self-harmed and how they have accessed health services before and after self-harm. Understanding the specific health problems and treatment gaps is a critical first step to developing effective preventive measures.

“This will inform strategies to allow health services to better meet the needs of people with dementia who self-harmed,” says Dr Reppermund.

Professor Graeme Samuel AC, Chair, Dementia Australia Research Foundation, said the grants provided a valuable opportunity to researchers who wanted to make a difference in the field of dementia.

“We are investing in the next generation of Australian researchers who will be among those tackling some of the biggest challenges in this field,” Professor Samuel said.

"These grants, which form part of $1.7 million in funding allocated last year, are highly competitive and sought after in the research sector, and provide vital insights into reducing dementia risk, improving accurate and timely diagnoses and establishing treatment and care options for people who live with dementia."
Professor Graeme Samuel AC, Chair, Dementia Australia Research Foundation

“Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia is expected to increase to almost 1.1 million by 2058. Research into dementia is now more urgent than ever.

“It is also promising to see so much diversity in research topics of our grant recipients from across Australia, including research into dementia-friendly eyecare, a neuroprotective signal that may help retain healthy brain cell activity and reducing the risk of dementia in people with obstructive sleep apnoea.”

The Dementia Australia Research Foundation acknowledges the generosity of donors and partners who contribute each and every year to support dementia research. Since the Dementia Grants Program started in 2000, more than $20 million in funding has supported more than 300 projects.