Growing old well

Negative early life experiences are having a major impact in the brains of Indigenous children, leading to problems in later life, research presented at the Brain Sciences UNSW Symposium suggests.

Negative early life experiences and lack of educational opportunities are having a major impact in the brains of Indigenous children, leading to a range of health and socio-economic problems in later life, early findings from the Koori Growing Old Well study suggest.

Findings from the study were presented today at the Brain Sciences UNSW Symposium - The Developing Brain from Womb to Tomb.

"It is childhood that must be the focus of any attempt to improve the health of Aboriginal people," says study leader, UNSW Professor Tony Broe, from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeurRA).

Health and lifespan in urban and regional Aboriginal communities (around 70% of the population) is no better than in more remote Aboriginal people (around 30% of the population).

"This suggests factors other than adult lifestyle and access to services are at play," Professor Broe said.

"Childhood neural defects, plus additional social and education deficits and involvement in the criminal justice system are all major determinants of poor adult health and - we believe - are accelerating dementia in older Indigenous people."

The symposium brought together Australasia's leading experts to discuss the latest findings on brain development, including the role of genes, behaviour and the environment.

Speakers included:

  • UNSW Scientia Professor Perminder Sachdev, who outlined emerging research on the plasticity of the ageing brain and interventions to prevent the onset of disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
  • Dr Timothy Bredy, University of Queensland, on how environmental factors are active across the lifespan, helping to switch genes off and on.
  • Professor Richie Poulton, University of Otago, on childhood self-control as a predictor of adult health, prosperity and public safety.
  • Professor Julio Licinio, ANU, on leptin and its lifetime impact on the brain.

The full symposium program is available here.

Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media | 02 9385 8107 | 0424 580 208