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Health News

Dementia is Not Just About Memory Loss

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Dementia is Not Just About Memory Loss

 

Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA)

We focus too much on memory loss in relation to dementia and not enough on difficulties with identifying emotions in social situations, according to researchers from UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA)and the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University.

The perspective paper, published in Frontiers of Psychiatryhas highlighted the importance of assessing standard emotional responses to situations in order to improve diagnosis and management of dementia.

Lead author and social health expert Dr Suraj Samtani said that individuals with many types of dementia can identify most emotions such as happiness, sadness, surprise and fear, but have difficulties identifying other basic or primary emotions, including disgust or anger in facial expressions, as well as sarcasm and jokes in conversations.

“The value of assessing social cognition in older adults with dementia is to improve early intervention and treatment,” said Dr Samtani.

“It can also help identify dementia pathways for individuals from type of dementia such as frontotemporal dementia, to development of behavioural symptoms. Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – involve memory loss, but for other types of dementia such as frontotemporal dementia, difficulties with social cognition are often the earliest signs of change.

Humans are inherently social beings, and having social connection is considered a basic human need. As individuals age, a variety of physical, cognitive and social changes take place, which can influence daily functioning and subsequently overall wellbeing.

Dr Samtani explained that in this context social cognition is “our ability to recognise emotions, social cues, inhibit inappropriate behaviour and act appropriately in social situations.”

Social cognition is a key component of how we function as social beings and includes the ability to understand other people’s mental states, and being able to feel and respond to what other people feel.

A man with dementia and memory loss.

“Deficits in any of these social cognitive functions are a core feature of mild cognitive impairment and dementia, and may represent an early decline in cognitive function,” said Dr Samtani.

“These can manifest through behaviours such as difficulties with eye contact, behaving rudely or offensively and a clear failure to detect social cues in conversations.”

Routine social cognition assessments would ensure timely and appropriate interventions to improve social functioning and strengthen social health for individuals with dementia.

Another important factor noted in the paper is the link between social cognitive skills and the maintenance of social relationships.

Dr Joyce Siette from the MARCS Institute and senior author on the paper explained that individuals experiencing difficulty responding to social cues or having trouble reading emotions will likely become isolated and lonely.

“With recent evidence indicating that social isolation is a known modifiable risk factor for dementia, it is time to consider how we can reliably detect social cognitive deficits, as well as identify changes in them over time,” said Dr Siette.

However, identifying these deficits has many challenges, notably that there is no standard or accepted approach to measuring them.

While social reasoning and identifying and remembering faces add great value to the assessment of social cognition, the lack of measuring skills such as eye contact, asking open ended questions, using humour, understanding puns and keeping conversations going marks a flaw in the dementia diagnosis process.

“The majority of social cognition measures have either not been rigorously developed or psychometrically validated with people experiencing cognitive changes, with social behaviour the key component that remains to be assessed properly,” said Dr Samtani.

Internationally acclaimed leaders in the ageing brain and Co-Directors of CHeBA, Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev, said that “more work was needed to develop an effective measurement of social cognition that have functionality in the clinic.”

 

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

 

Should You Consider Self-Insurance? Plus Other Tips to Save!

Consumer group CHOICE has found that many Australians faced significant increases in their health insurance premiums in April, with some premiums rising as much as 17%—far higher than the annual average industry-wide price increase of 3.03%.

“CHOICE reviewed the prices of over 24,000 policies with hospital cover and found Gold policies had the highest premium increases, with average increases above 10% for HBF, HCF, HIF, and Australian Unity policies. One Gold policy in Western Australia even saw a 17% hike,” said CHOICE health insurance expert Jodi Bird.

“With these sky-high increases, it’s worth taking the time to review your health insurance to ensure you’re only paying for what you need, and that you’re getting it at the best possible price,” Bird added.

CHOICE’s Top Tips for Saving on Your Health Insurance

  1. Drop Gold Hospital Insurance

“Gold hospital cover has become too expensive. If you have a specific condition usually covered by Gold policies and want to use the private hospital system, look for a Silver Plus policy or consider self-insurance.”

Self-insurance is an alternative to private health insurance. Instead of paying an insurer, you save money yourself to cover private health costs as they arise. If you don’t need any health treatment, your savings will grow.

“We have found that in some cases, opting to self-fund your health care can be the better-value option,” Bird explained.

For example, cataract surgery, one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, is often only covered by the most expensive Gold policies. CHOICE’s analysis showed that the annual cost of top-cover health insurance could exceed the out-of-pocket cost for a private cataract procedure.

“This option may only be suitable for people who have few health issues and do not anticipate any unexpected health events. And of course, you need to ensure you have the money set aside in case you require a surgical procedure or treatment in the private system,” Bird advised.

  1. Compare Policies to Find a Good Deal

“We always recommend comparing policies to find the best value policy to suit your needs. The same cover with a different insurer may save you hundreds of dollars a year. Look beyond the well-known big funds and consider smaller funds; switching to a smaller fund often provides a cheaper deal,” said Bird.

“If you’re unsure where to start, CHOICE has an independent health insurance comparison tool that allows you to compare thousands of policies from over 40 insurers,” Bird suggested.

  1. Do You Need Extras Insurance?

“The value of extras insurance really depends on the individual. It can be worth purchasing, but only if you use it enough that it pays out more than the premiums that are coming out of your pocket,” Bird noted.

“If you need extras insurance, shop around and buy your extras from a different provider than your standard hospital cover if you find a better deal,” Bird recommended.

Compare health insurance policies here: CHOICE Health Insurance Comparison Tool

 

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

 

People aged 65 and over are being strongly urged to book their free influenza vaccine as respiratory illnesses continue to rise across NSW.

The latest NSW Health Respiratory Surveillance Report, released today, indicates a rapid increase in influenza activity in NSW, with COVID-19 transmission also reaching high levels.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant reported a 27% increase in influenza notifications and a 23% increase in COVID-19 notifications for the week ending 25 May compared to the previous week.

“While everyone aged six months and over is urged to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible, it is particularly important for those at higher risk of severe illness from the virus,” Dr. Chant said.

“Influenza immunisation rates aren’t where they need to be. Less than half of people aged 65 and over in NSW have received their influenza vaccine this year. We really need to see that number go up, especially as people in this age group are among those most at risk of severe illness.

“We expect the number of influenza cases to quickly increase in the weeks ahead, so now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.”

The influenza vaccine is free and readily available for those at higher risk of severe illness from influenza. It is available through GPs for any age group and through pharmacies for everyone aged five years and over.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) Infectious Diseases Paediatrician Dr. Phil Britton noted that influenza notifications are increasing across all age groups, particularly among young children aged three to four years.

“In recent weeks, we have seen influenza cases rising among young children. The best thing parents can do to keep their kids well this winter, and reduce the risk of them being hospitalised due to influenza, is to ensure their children receive a flu vaccine,” Dr. Britton said.

Free Flu Vaccination Eligibility:

  • People aged 65 and over
  • Children aged six months to under five years
  • Aboriginal people from six months of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, severe asthma, kidney, heart, and lung disease

Steps to Protect Yourself and Others from Respiratory Viruses:

  • Stay up to date with recommended influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home
  • Gather outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces with open doors and windows
  • Avoid crowded spaces
  • Consider doing a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting people at higher risk of severe illness
  • Talk with your doctor now if you are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or influenza to make a plan about what to do if you get sick, including what test to take, and discussing if you are eligible for antiviral medicines
  • Don’t visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness if you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19 or influenza
  • Practice good hand hygiene, including regular hand washing

For more information and to book your vaccination, visit your local GP or pharmacy.

 

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Mental Health Service Boost in Coffs Harbour with Opening of Medicare Mental Health Centre

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Mental Health Service Boost in Coffs Harbour with Opening of Medicare Mental Health Centre

 

Communities in and around Coffs Harbour will soon benefit from increased mental health support with the opening of a Medicare Mental Health Centre in late June. Healthy North Coast, which delivers the North Coast Primary Health Network program on behalf of the Australian Government, announced today the selection of local not-for-profit organisation Open Minds as the service provider for the new centre.

Monika Wheeler, CEO of Healthy North Coast, emphasised the importance of accessible mental health services. “It is estimated that 43% of Australians will experience mental health distress at some point in their lives. It is vitally important we have a range of mental health services that are easily accessed in times of need,” she stated.

The new centre will offer free, walk-in mental health services with no appointments or referrals necessary. This model is designed to provide immediate and tailored support to individuals in need. Wheeler highlighted the success of a similar initiative: “Our Lismore Centre, also run by Open Minds, opened in 2022 and has delivered over 9,000 sessions and supported more than 1,000 people. We’re confident that the Coffs Harbour Centre will be a welcome addition for residents looking for a tailored experience and connection to the right support for them and their circumstances, which are different for everyone.”

Rik Barker, General Manager of Integrated Mental Health Services (NSW) at Open Minds, welcomed the announcement. “We look forward to opening the doors in Coffs and delivering a quality mental health service, improving the wellbeing of people on the Mid North Coast,” he said.

Key Features of the New Centre

  • Staffing: The centre will be staffed by mental health and allied health professionals available to visitors based on their level of need. There will also be a Social and Emotional Wellbeing Worker for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, in partnership with Galambila Aboriginal Health Service.
  • Location and Hours: The centre will be co-located with the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre in Block B of the Community Village, 22 Earl Street, Coffs Harbour. Initial hours of operation will be 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, with provisions for targeted/appointment-based services for up to four hours on Saturdays.
  • Accessibility: Residents can visit the centre without prior appointments, and services are free of charge.

Wheeler explained the community’s enthusiastic response to the new centre, noting its welcoming space and easy accessibility. She also encouraged those unable to visit in person to utilize the free Head to Health service by calling 1800 595 212 for phone-based support.

Additional Information

  • Crisis Services: The Medicare Mental Health Centres are not intended for crisis or emergency services. For urgent support, individuals should contact Lifeline at 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Access Line at 1800 011 511. For immediate help or if at risk of harm, calling 000 is advised.

For more information and updates, visit here.

 

For more Coffs Harbour news, click here.

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