AUSTRALIAN film legend Bryan Brown is using his star power to help raise much-needed funds for Alzheimer’s research.
He was in Perth recently as an ambassador for the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
The 70-year-old actor took on the role in memory of his mate Richard Neville, co-founder of the irreverent Oz magazine in London in the 1960s.
“Richard was always someone who pushed the boundaries in thinking; his mind was active at all times,” Bryan said.
“Then about five years ago the onset of Alzheimer’s began and very rapidly affected that mind.
“It was so bad he got up to speak in front of a group and forgot what he was talking about. He died (aged 74) a couple of years ago.
“It was a real wake-up call for me. It made me think long and hard how we want to go to our graves embracing the memories and thoughts that we have had.”
When Bryan met Ralph Martins, director of research at the foundation and a professor at Edith Cowan University, he took up his offer to be tested for Alzheimer’s.
“I did find it scary,” he said.
“My work is dependent on being able to learn lines; it is over for me if I can’t do that.
“But for my age I handled it quite well. As we age we do forget things, and that’s OK.”
Bryan said Alzheimer’s is a major part of what is going on in modern society.
“I’m finding so many friends from my generation are dealing with their partners and parents facing this debilitating disease.
“We need to look for a way to slow this disease down and get rid of it. We must implore our government to make sure we fund research into it.”
Professor Martins said Alzheimer’s could be diagnosed 20 years before symptoms appear.
“This allows us to put in place preventative processes,” he said.
“You can’t change your genes but you can change the expression of your genes.
“Exercise has a profound effect on reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s and diet also plays a huge role.”
Professor Martins said sugar was particularly bad and recommended following a Mediterranean style of diet.
He said memory tests alone were not enough for an accurate diagnosis, but at $3000 per scan, brain imaging was expensive.
“We need to develop a screening test that is publicly funded. There is no one magic trial yet and a tight bottleneck has occurred because of a lack of funding for medical imaging.”
As well as examining lifestyle factors, the foundation is investigating the role of genetics, molecular and neuropsychological predictive markers of cognitive decline, blood-based protein and lipid biomarkers and the role of testosterone.
It is estimated that unless a breakthrough is found, more than 1.2 million Australians will have developed the disease in just over three decades.
- Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, (08) 6457-0253, alzheimers.com.au
CAROLINE Powell, now in her 50s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago.
“It was my brother who urged me to get tested; he was insistent something was wrong,” she said. At first the former nurse, who used to work extensively with dementia patients, was in denial.
“The fear now is knowing what is ahead. I know what happens at the end.”
Caroline asks people to be accepting of what those with Alzheimer’s are experiencing and not to be condescending.“I truly believe exercise helps and I do a lot of ballroom dancing. I try to eat good food and probably go overboard on the fish oils and turmeric.”