Committed to Helping Aussies Age Well
30 June 2014 at 10:40 am
From working as a lab technician to leading a national research institute devoted to ageing, Professor David Ames has been committed to approaches and services that help Australians age well. Ames is this week’s Changemaker.
Ames is the Executive Director of the Melbourne-based National Ageing Research Institute, where his main focus is on new drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and the care of the depressed elderly.
He joined NARI in 2007 and in that time has led the NARI team to establish memory clinics across Victoria, ensure better diagnosis and care of people with dementia, led research in falls prevention and pain diagnosis, and improved Aged Care Assessment Services to keep people living in the community and out of residential care for as long as possible.
Ames’ first job in the Not for Profit sector was a laboratory technician in 1976.
Now, as well as head of NARI, he is the team leader for Australian Imaging, Biomarker & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing (AIBL), which is looking at what health and lifestyle factors contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
He holds the University of Melbourne’s Foundation Chair of Psychiatry of Old Age at St. George’s Hospital Kew, where he is also Director of the Aged Psychiatry Service.
He is a member of the Medical & Scientific Advisory Panel of Alzheimer’s Disease International.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
As well as the usual round of meetings, budget discussions and administrative tasks, I am in a number of research teams that are looking at dementia, pain and falls.
For instance, people with dementia can be aggressive. We are looking at to what extent that aggression may be related to pain.
We are testing whether pain medication can reduce this behaviour in a world-first trial that has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The international ageing research community is keenly interested in the results.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
I’ve always been interested in research and older people. I’ve always enjoyed being around people of like minds and somehow found my way into the not for profit sector. It was either that or academia. I began work in the NFP sector in 1976 as a lab technician and have never looked back.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
With NARI, I wear many hats: I lecture, research and mentor staff. I especially relish the time I have with the NARI staff, many of whom are young postgraduates who challenge and listen at the same time.
Working with older people who volunteer their time as research participants is also a delight.
We would not have achieved the results that we have without the help of volunteers whether they are carers or people with chronic disease who are happy to give up their time to help us learn more about ageing.
Their contribution is vital to the future of Australia’s older people. Our population is likely to increase from the current 23 million to over 35 million in 2056. The number of people living to be over 100 is increasing by eight per cent each year.
What has been the most challenging part of your work?
I would imagine same as any director: there is never enough money for research and we are always trying to do more with less. It pays to be able to think laterally in our search for ways to help older people age well.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I like and respect the people I work with. We are a good team delivering good, practical results that are taken up by policy makers and other health professionals working in the aged care sector.
What are you reading?
Gore Vidal’s Empire. This series of seven novels gives a unique insight into US history. It recreates America’s Gilded Age, a period of promise and possibility taking us from Abraham Lincoln through some of the greatest names of history – Theodore Roosevelt, Henry James, the Vanderbilts…
What are you watching?
I watch my computer screen far too much at the moment because I seem to be working a great deal of the time.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Il Turco in Italia, an opera by Rossini.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
My dream and hope is that one day we will be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.