Dementia has become the second leading cause of death in Australia, according to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which has recorded a total of 14,464 deaths attributable to the disease in 2020, up from 9200 in the 2010 year.
Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.
The detailed report by the AIHW notes that dementia is ‘a significant and growing health and aged care issue in Australia that has a substantial impact on the health and quality of life of people with the condition, as well as for their family and friends.’
The Australian Government-backed body’s report provides a comprehensive picture of dementia in Australia, including the latest statistics on dementia prevalence, burden of disease, prescribed medications, death rates and health system expenditure, as well as the usage of medical and aged care services among people with dementia and information on patients and carers of people with the disease.
Along with five moving case histories of people living with dementia the report overviews the condition and those most likely to be affected – prevalence rates are estimated to be 3-5 times higher amongst Indigenous Australians than the population at large. Also analysed are the health and support services available, the needs of patients and carers, and the usage of GP and specialist services.
Statistics show that about half (49%) of all MBS services used by people with dementia were for GP consultations, with an average of 20 consultations used by each person with dementia in 2016–17. This included dementia-specific consultations, as well as consultations to manage other health issues among people with dementia.
A greater proportion of MBS services were used by people living in residential aged care (57%) than for those living in the community (36%).
There are few surprises amongst the analysis of risk factors – including age, genetics and family history.
‘However, several are modifiable, and can be altered to prevent or delay dementia,’ the report says, adding, ‘High levels of education, physical activity and social engagement are all protective against developing dementia, while obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, hearing loss, depression and diabetes are all linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.
‘In 2021, it was estimated that there were between 386,200 (AIHW estimate) and 472,000 Australians living with dementia… Based on AIHW estimates, this is equivalent to 15 people with dementia per 1,000 Australians, which increases to 83 people with dementia per 1,000 Australians aged 65 and over.
‘Nearly two-thirds of Australians with dementia are women. With an ageing and growing population, it is predicted that the number of Australians with dementia will more than double by 2058 – from 386,200 in 2021 to 849,300 in 2058 (533,800 women and 315,500 men).’
* The University of Tasmania’s Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre has announced a waiver of 2023 tuition fees for students enrolling to study dementia care for the aged care sector. The Diploma of Dementia Care is a fully online, 8-unit program with no formal entry requirements. Topics include how dementia impacts brain function over time, and how practical strategies can be implemented across care settings to best support people with dementia. Applications are open through - UTAS.edu.au/study/dementia-care