Home' Vetaffairs : Vetaffairs - Spring 2017 Contents 7 — Vetaffairs Spring 2017
Dr Loretta Poerio
Mental Health Adviser
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Who are Australia’s veterans?
What does the average DVA client
look like? Or the typical veteran,
for that matter? If you’re thinking
of a former serviceman aged in his
60s, 70s or older, you’re only see-
ing part of the picture.
As it turns out, one quarter of
DVA’s veteran clients are aged
under 50, with a further 35% aged
between 50 and 69.
Some 23,000 of the Depart-
ment’s clients are under the age
Sure, more than 201,000 are 65
or older and one in seven Aus-
tralians over the age of 85 have a
DVA Health Card, but almost half
of DVA’s clients (48%) are women
and 2500 of them are dependent
Speaking of dependants, 25% of
DVA clients who are dependants
are under 70, 48% are aged 70–89
and 27% are aged 90+.
Another factor to consider is
that the Department is undergo-
ing a significant period of change.
DVA’s overall client numbers are
falling. Today, DVA has contact
with one in three veterans who
have served since Vietnam, and
one in five veterans who have
served since 1999.
This change gives DVA the
opportunity to put veterans at the
centre of everything it does.
tion will empower veterans
and their families by making
it simpler to access the ser-
vices they require. Veterans
will enjoy improved health and
wellbeing outcomes under a
system that focuses on veteran
wellbeing – moving away from
a claims-based rehabilitation
and healthcare system.
Figures correct as at June 2017.
Keeping our brains in gear as we age
Ever wondered why some people maintain their edge well into their later
years and others don’t? There are a number of factors that can make a differ-
ence, and we have more control over these than we give ourselves credit for.
Risk factors such as age or genes cannot be changed, but high blood pres-
sure or a lack of exercise can. It is worth the effort as maintaining a healthy
brain can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart
disease and cancer, and may also mitigate the onset of dementia.
With the incidence of dementia, and particularly its most common form,
Alzheimer’s disease, increasing as we age, there is no better time to start
looking after your brain than now. Dementia is the second leading cause of
death in Australia after coronary heart disease. Of course, these conditions
are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the risk of developing dementia increases
as a result of conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels such as high
blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Dr John Arden, neuropsychologist and author, talks about planting SEEDS
as a way of remembering the fundamentals of healthy brain maintenance.
The Alzheimer’s Association of Australia also supports these activities.
S is for social support. The brain loves the wellbeing-enhancing connec-
tions we make when interacting with others. Such connections enhance
bonding and attachment, increase our sense of safety and regulate emo-
tions such as fear. Social interaction also activates our reward systems,
which makes the experience enjoyable and more likely to be repeated. In
fact, social isolation is a common factor in depression and anxiety.
E is for education. Education is considered cognitive exercise and is
another form of anti-depressant – ongoing learning can enhance our capac-
ity to see future possibilities rather than fixate on past failures. Developing
cognitive reserves through education increases brain longevity and health.
Further, people with higher levels of education are less likely to suffer from
symptoms of dementia. There is no better time to sign up for that Spanish
lesson or woodworking class.
E is for exercise. Did you know that aerobic exercise contributes to multi-
ple brain-building processes? It enhances both the brain’s ability to change
and the generation of new neurons, which is important for learning and
memory and has been linked with longevity and reduced risk of dementia.
Exercise is also a very effective anti-depressant and can reduce anxiety and
stress. That Latin dance class never looked so good!
D is for diet. We all need good nutrition at regular intervals to provide
the raw materials that make the brain function effectively. Insufficient raw
materials or an oversupply of simple carbohydrates, trans-fatty acids or pro-
cessed food prevent the brain from functioning optimally. A balanced diet is
particularly important for older adults because aging slows the production
of antioxidants which leads to cell loss.
S is for sleep. Sleep plays a critical role in the restorative and revitalising
functions of the brain. Healthy sleep is essential for cognitive, emotional and
metabolic processes. Most medications, especially benzodiazepines, impair
sleep so developing good sleep hygiene habits is the preferred approach. Fur-
ther, people sleeping less than seven hours a night have increased cortisol
and adrenaline, which also leads to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There is evidence that, in combination, these strategies can slow cognitive
decline of older adults at risk of cognitive impairment.
Embrace the SEEDS approach one step at a time. While the activities are
simple, it will take commitment and time to ensure they become habit. One
thing is for sure, your brain will thank you!
Alz.org website – ‘Alzheimer’s and Dementia in Australia’
Fight dementia website – ‘Reducing the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease’
Your life choices website – ‘Maintaining a healthy brain’
Alz.org website – ‘Prevention and Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia’
Your brain matters website
Sleep Foundation website – ‘What is sleep hygiene?’
Webinar examines sleep disorders
and mental wellbeing
The Veterans and Veter-
ans Families Counselling
Service (VVCS) held its sec-
ond community webinar on
30 August 2017, covering the
topic of sleep disturbance.
The webinar looked at top-
ics including what it’s like to
live with a sleep disorder, how
sleep disturbance can affect
veterans’ families, how sleep
disorders can be managed,
when to seek help and where
to find it.
The format was similar to
that of the community webi-
nar on post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) held in April
2017, also taking the form of a
Dr Sean Drummond, Profes-
sor of Clinical Neuroscience at
Monash University and Presi-
dent of the Sleep Research
Society, was among the panel-
lists. His clinical expertise lies
in treating behavioral sleep
disorders, such as insomnia
and chronic nightmares, as
well as mood disorders such
as depression and bipolar.
The webinar also high-
lighted VVCS’ Sleeping Better
program. This program is an
educational and skills based
group program assisting par-
ticipants to understand the
sleep process and how to
effectively manage disturbed
sleep, with two-hour ses-
sions offered once a week for
10 weeks held in various loca-
tions across Australia.
The next community webi-
nar will cover the topic of
exercise and wellbeing and
will be held on 25 October 2017.
To register for the upcom-
ing webinar, watch the latest
video, or register for the Sleep-
ing Better program, visit www.
FIVE TIPS FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
Undertake a social media detox
(even for just 30 minutes) before
you head to bed.
Avoid stimulants (caffeine/
nicotine) from midday and
depressants (alcohol) close to
bed time (about five hours).
Try to get some fresh air, sun-
shine and exercise each day.
Make sure that your bedroom
environment is clean, cool
Establish a regular relaxing
bedtime routine to help your
body and mind recognise that
it is time to rest.
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