New Dementia Research on Māori Led by Māori

Misdiagnosis of dementia in Māori has prompted a three year study by Dr Margaret Dudley, a University of Auckland psychologist. The study into the relationship between Māori and dementia is the first of its kind in New Zealand, and has so far received more than $1 million from the Health Research Council of New Zealand. “Misdiagnosis of Māori often occurs because assessment tools are not developed for Māori,” Margaret says, “this may be because historically Māori have not lived long, and everything we know about dementia is from a western world paradigm.”

Misdiagnosis appears most prevalent around the ‘time and space’ based assessment questions. “Incorrect answers about the day, week, and month may occur because dated time keeping is less important for elderly and rural māori,” Margaret says. This project aims to create meaningful and relevant questions to Māori by developing culturally relevant tools, with the hopes that this will minimise misdiagnosis.

The development process is a combination of kaupapa Māori theory and western science. This includes: hui with more than 130 kaumatua over 55 years-old; approximately 13 interviews with whanau who provide care for a family member with dementia; and consultation with non-Māori neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, geriatricians, and GPs who will advise on the scientific aspects of developing a diagnostic tool.

“We wanted research on Māori led by Māori,” Margaret says. Her team lives up to that vision, with Dr Hinemoa Elder, Dr Oliver Menzies, and Professor Denise Wilson among others helping to lead the charge. The prevalence of dementia in Māori is expected to increase over the next few decades, and having the tools to accurately identify it will be beneficial not just for Māori, but for Aotearoa as a whole.

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