Forecast 'surge' in Māori and other NZ dementia cases 'potentially preventable' - University of Auckland study

By Te Ao - Māori News
Dr Etuini Ma’u.  Credit / NZ Doctor

More than 50 per cent of Māori dementia cases are potentially preventable, according to Pacific Island expert, Dr Etuini Ma’u, of the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

The number of people in Aotearoa with dementia is forecast to increase from 70,000 today to 170,000 by 2050.

However, a new study by the University of Auckland says many cases can be avoided by reducing contributing factors, such as hearing loss, smoking, depression, obesity, social isolation and physical inactivity.

"Almost half (47.7%) of New Zealand’s dementia cases are potentially preventable, with even higher prevention potential for Māori (51.4%) and Pacific peoples (50.8%)," Dr Ma’u, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine, said in a University of Auckland statement.

According to the study, the risk factors are different across ethnic groups. "Social isolation and hearing loss is big for Europeans, hearing loss and lower education levels for Māori and Pacific peoples, and physical inactivity for those of Asian ethnicity."

Dr Ma’u said the immediate focus needs to be on prevention, while efforts are made to find a cure for the disease.

“In the absence of a cure for dementia, prevention needs to become a public health priority to stem the surge. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and strategies to reduce dementia need to be tailored toward the most relevant risk factors within each ethnic group.” 

The study points to 12 risk factors for dementia: less education, hypertension, obesity, alcohol, traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, smoking, depression, physical inactivity, social isolation, diabetes, and air pollution.