Brodaty, Henry

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In 1982 Henry Brodaty was the Foundation President of the NSW Australian Alzheimer’s Association. In 1988, he became national President of Alzheimer’s Australia and in 2002, Chairman of Alzheimer’s Disease International, the world-wide federation of (now) 75 national Alzheimer’s Associations. Since 1990, he has been the inaugural Professor of Psychogeriatrics at the University of NSW and the Foundation Director of the Academic Department for Old Age Psychiatry at both the Prince of Wales and the Prince Henry Hospitals.

Following his graduation, Henry worked at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, first as a Resident Medical Officer, then as a Medical Registrar. He attained Membership (and subsequently Fellowship) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians at the age of 25 years, an impossibility nowadays. He took on a locum position in General Practice in Glebe before travelling to England to commence training in Psychiatry. Travel was relatively more expensive then and he was grateful to obtain a free (one-way) airfare in return for accompanying a psychiatric patient to Naples.

He realised that studies of the brain was where he wanted to centre his interest and was drawn to psychiatry, which seemed to be about to ride a wave of discovery. In that same year he commenced a position as Senior House Officer in the Academic Department of Psychiatry at the Middlesex Hospital in London, where he remained for a year, returning to Australia in 1974 and taking up a post as Medical Officer in the Neuropsychiatric Institute at Rozelle Hospital. In those days it was known as Callan Park and was a 2000 bed hospital. During that time, his work consisted mostly of assessing and treating patients with neuropsychiatric disorders and those with severe psychiatric disorders resistant to treatments of the day, including patients being considered for psychosurgery, an issue of great debate and public demonstrations. Behaviour therapy was just becoming part of the therapeutic armamentarium and, fresh with experience from his London training, he was able to successfully apply his knowledge of this therapy to some of his patients. There was no CT or MRI scanning and the imaging technology of the day was pneumoencephalograms (PEGs) or arteriograms, both of which were arduous and carried risks and could only be performed at specialised centres such as the NPI.

In 1975 Henry worked as Psychiatry Registrar at the Prince Henry Hospital (PHH) in Little Bay until he completed his psychiatry training in 1977 and became a Member (and subsequently a Fellow) of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. In 1980, after a year as Consultant Staff Specialist, Henry became the Director and Medical Superintendent of the Psychiatry Unit, a role in which he remained for 10 years. The psychiatry unit at PHH was the main teaching campus for the University of New South Wales until the new unit opened at Prince of Wales Hospital in 1977. The PHH unit provided care for people with a range of psychiatric disorders including neurotic conditions, and included a daily group therapy program. It also had a locked section for people who were a danger to themselves or to others, which Henry oversaw in his role as Medical Superintendent.

His main interest at that time was in dynamic or analytically based psychotherapy and in 1977 he commenced a doctoral thesis under the supervision of Professor Gavin Andrews. He developed a semi-structured eight half-hour sessions model of brief psychotherapy for use in general practice. The MD thesis was a randomised controlled trial of this technique in general practice patients with persistent psychological morbidity.

In 1982, unrelated to his psychiatric work, Henry became the inaugural President of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Society (ADARDS NSW), now known as Alzheimer’s Australia, NSW). He formed the society with a small band of interested collaborators, as a result of personal experience of Alzheimer’s disease in his family. He submitted his MD thesis to the University of NSW in 1983, the following year, going on a sabbatical to Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital to learn more about Mood Disorders Units in preparation for setting up the first MDU in Sydney at PHH. While there, he attended the Memory Clinics operating at Mass General, went to Nottingham for a course in Psychogeriatrics (conducted by Professor Tom Arie), and attended an historic meeting in Washington DC that was to establish Alzheimer’s Disease International. This was a pivotal year and he changed direction from general psychiatry and psychotherapy to old age psychiatry and mood disorders. On his return in 1985, he received his Doctorate of Medicine and established the Memory Disorders Clinic and, with Professor Gordon Parker, the Mood Disorders Unit at Prince Henry Hospital.

The Alzheimer movement was gathering pace in 1988 when he became President of ADARDS (Australia). In 1989 controversy was rife regarding the future of Strickland House, a magnificent residence on the foreshore at Vaucluse with commanding views of Sydney Harbour. It was being used as nursing home but was proposed as a residence for the Premier or a private hotel. The State government closed the facility and in order to quell the public outcry, provided funding for an academic department of psychogeriatrics at PHH and UNSW. (The future of Strickland House, which to this day remains unoccupied, is still uncertain). It was a natural progression that with his increasing involvement in issues regarding mental health of older people, Henry resigned his position as Director of the Psychiatric Unit at PHH in 1990 to become the inaugural Professor of Psychogeriatrics at the University of NSW (the first such post in Australia) and the Foundation Director of the Academic Department for Old Age Psychiatry at both the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry Hospitals, positions which he continues to hold.

In these current capacities, his research focuses on dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. His studies, which analyse the effects on carers of a family member with Alzheimer’s, inform further design of programs to help carers. He oversees trials of new drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease or its behavioural and psychiatric complications. Henry states that:

Two thirds of nursing home residents have dementia and they exhibit high rates of behavioural disturbances which are distressing to themselves, their families and the staff. We have been conducting a trial of different models of care to help these residents and have also been investigating the use of new drugs for the treatment of aggression in nursing homes.

His team have been working with the Neuropsychiatric Institute to “study what predicts who will develop dementia and what are the rates of depression and other psychiatric problems after stroke”. Another area of focus for Henry is late-life depression.

His research is manifest in over 200 scientific papers and book chapters. Henry also sits on the Editorial Boards of eight scientific journals. Since 1984, he has held many positions in the executive of Alzheimer’s Disease International, including Chairman of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee from 1993 to 2002, and Chairman of ADI from 2002 to 2005. He remains an Honorary Vice-President of ADI. He was also on the Board of Directors of the International Psychogeriatric Association from 1994 to 2002 and was Chair of the IPA Task Force on Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia until 2005. He is or has been a member of virtually every Australian, Commonwealth and State committee relating to dementia in the last twelve years and was member of the Guardianship Tribunal of NSW from 1990 till 2001. He currently sits on the Commonwealth’s Dementia a National Health Priority Task Force reporting to the Australian Minister for Ageing, the NSW Dementia Reference Group and the NSW Health Priority Task Force on Chronic, Aged and Community Care.

Henry has received numerous awards for his work in the field of psychiatry: In 1977 he was the recipient of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Medallion as the top candidate in Australia and New Zealand for their examinations. In 1980, he won the Junior Organon Research Award; in 1987, the Ian Simpson Award for outstanding contribution to clinical psychiatry in Australasia, in 1989; the Bayer-AG International Psychogeriatric Association research award (equal second), in 1993; the UNSW Alumni Award (for contribution to the community); 1994; and from Sydney Rotary the Paul Harris International Fellowship in 1995 and their highest award, the Vocational Services Award in 2002.

In 2000, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for “service to the health and well-being of older people in the community as a leader in dementia care through the Alzheimer’s Association, both nationally and internationally, and to medicine through contributions to the specialty of old age psychiatry, and academic and research knowledge in psychogeriatrics”.[1] In 2002, he was the recipient of the Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research Novartis Oration and in 2003, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry’s (RANZCP) Senior Organon Research Award (to the Fellow who has made the most significant contribution to psychiatric research in Australia and New Zealand over the preceding two years).[1] Henry is listed in the top 1000 scientists publishing internationally in the field of mental health and has a number of research grants, including an NHMRC Program Grant.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Brodaty, Henry. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.