Devastating causes of childhood dementia revealed
It is a heartbreaking condition that robs children of their ability to walk, talk and recognise their loved ones and now the latest research has revealed the true impact of childhood dementia globally.
In the collaborative study, experts from the University of Adelaide, the Childhood Dementia Initiative, the University of New South Wales, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and leading Australian clinicians have for the first time defined the 145 genetic disorders that cause childhood dementia.
“This study provides a clearer picture of who is affected by these devastating and under-recognised conditions,” said Dr Nicholas Smith, Head of Paediatric Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Group at the University of Adelaide.
“The 145 disorders we have classified as childhood dementia are complex and varied. Tragically, what they share in common is the heartbreaking, progressive neurocognitive decline and a severely shortened life expectancy.”
The findings have been published in international medical journal, Brain.
Childhood dementia results from progressive brain damage caused by a collection of genetic disorders.
Just like adults with dementia, children with childhood dementia experience symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, personality changes, severely disturbed sleep and difficulty concentrating, understanding, learning, and communicating.
The study, which involved analysis of published data from Australia and overseas, and modelling by heath economists at Thema Consulting, shows dementia symptoms typically start when the patient is just two and a half years old, with the average age of diagnosis around four years old.
“The collective burden of childhood dementia is significant, and this new research will raise awareness of the scale of these conditions with researchers, clinicians, government and policymakers both nationally and internationally.”Dr Nicholas Smith, Head of Paediatric Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Group, University of Adelaide.
The average life expectancy for patients is just nine years, with 70 per cent of children dying before they turn 18.
“Childhood dementia is a cruel condition that robs children of the skills that they have only just learned – to speak, play and to recognise their loved ones. This can happen over months, years, or decades until eventually the brain loses the ability to keep the body alive,” said Dr Kristina Elvidge, Head of Research at the Childhood Dementia Initiative.
“Currently treatment options are severely limited, hard to access and research to develop effective treatments and cures is poorly funded. Improvements to care and support for affected families are also desperately needed and we hope this new research will lead to better outcomes for these children.”
While individually the genetic disorders are rare, collectively, more than 100 babies born each year in Australia will develop childhood dementia. This is as common as well-known disorders like cystic fibrosis.
This study estimated that 91 Australians die from childhood dementia each year – a similar number to the those that die from childhood cancer (0-14 years).
“Whilst there is significant resourcing for adult-onset dementia, similar services do not exist for childhood onset disease, despite their need,” said Dr Smith.
“The collective burden of childhood dementia is significant, and this new research will raise awareness of the scale of these conditions with researchers, clinicians, government and policymakers both nationally and internationally.”
The release of the results of this study coincides with Childhood Dementia Day, which is held on September 20.
Dr Nicholas Smith, Head, Paediatric Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Group, University of Adelaide and The Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology, Women’s and Children’s Health Network.
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Dr Kristina Elvidge, Head of Research, Childhood Dementia Initiative and Megan Maack, CEO, Childhood Dementia Initiative - Please contact Isobel Lindley, Communications Manager, Childhood Dementia Initiative. Mobile: +61 (0)416 176 235 Email: Isobel@childhooddementia.org
Jessica Stanley, Media Officer, The University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 (0)422 406 351.