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Dementia is not a single specific disease. It is an umbrella term describing a syndrome—a group of symptoms—associated with more than 100 different diseases that are characterised by the impairment of brain function, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills.
Dementia is not a natural part of ageing, although it becomes more common with increasing age, and so primarily affects older people. One of the expected consequences of an ageing population in Australia is an increase in the number of people with dementia over time, with projections estimating numbers may increase to around 900,000 cases by 2050.
Dementia is a major health problem in Australia, with profound consequences for the health and quality of life for those with the condition and their family and friends. On 10 August 2012, the Australian Health Ministers recognised dementia as the ninth National Health Priority Area.
Although the type and severity of symptoms and their pattern of development varies with the type of dementia, it is usually of gradual onset, progressive, and irreversible.
In the early stages of the condition, close family and friends may notice symptoms such as memory loss and difficulties with finding familiar words. In the mid-stages, difficulties may be experienced with familiar tasks, such as shopping, driving or handling money.
In the latter stages, difficulties extend to basic or core activities of daily living, such as self-care activities, including eating, bathing and dressing. People with dementia eventually become dependent on their carers in most, if not all, areas of daily living.
If you have a specific requirement for data or statistics not covered by any of our reports or online data, you can request customised aged care data from the National Aged Care Data Clearinghouse, a central, independent repository of national aged care data based at the AIHW. NACDC's data holdings cover programs delivered to older Australians both in the community and in a residential care setting.