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Dementia research finds its perfect match online

A new online matching service is set to revolutionise the way people with dementia and researchers connect, fast-tracking more effective and inclusive dementia research across Australia. Similar to popular dating apps, the StepUp for Dementia Research service will draw on characteristics such as age, location and diagnosis to match volunteers with researchers carrying out studies in dementia prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care and cure.

Research volunteer Eileen Taylor with her husband and carer Dobhglas Taylor Photo: Supplied

“[I do it] for my kids, and my grandkids, because I have the familial type of dementia. I give as much as I can now living with dementia, to make it easier for our future generations living with dementia,” said research volunteer Eileen Taylor.

Dementia is the second highest cause of death in Australia and while funding for research is a priority for governments, researchers say one of their biggest challenges is finding and keeping research participants.

“Dementia research in Australia is being severely impacted by difficulties and delays in finding the right people to take part in trials,” said Professor Yun-Hee Jeon, Susan and Isaac Wakil Professor of Healthy Ageing at the University of Sydney, who leads the StepUp for Dementia Research initiative. “The stigma around dementia means it can be hard to recruit participants, particularly those in the early stages who are likely to benefit most from our research but are often reluctant to talk about their symptoms or diagnosis.”

Professor Jeon said their preliminary review of the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry found that of terminated dementia clinical trials, three in five ceased due to recruitment difficulties.

“In my own experience, I have seen trials delayed by over a year and budgets blown out due to an inability to find the right research participants. StepUp for Dementia Research is set to change this,” said Professor Jeon of the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health and Charles Perkins Centre. “Importantly, it will also empower people with dementia, their families, carers and the general public to make informed decisions and to have a voice in shaping the future of dementia research.”

StepUp for Dementia Research ambassador and former national president of Dementia Australia, Ita Buttrose, said: “StepUp is an excellent initiative that will help reduce the stigma around a diagnosis of dementia, while encouraging people who have been touched by it to take the opportunity to create a better future for others experiencing dementia.”

StepUp for Dementia Research is based on a model already up and running in the UK, which has attracted over 40,000 volunteers in four years.

The Australian program is run by the University of Sydney and was developed in partnership with researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London. It is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

How can you get involved?
People over 18 – both with and without dementia – can register their interest in participating in research via the secure StepUp for Dementia Research website. They will then be connected with any studies they may be eligible for. A telephone (1800 7837 123) and postal service is also available.

Anyone across Australia can register, however, the rollout of research studies will commence with NSW and WA.

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