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Dementia is not a single specific condition. Rather, it is an umbrella term that describes a syndrome associated with more than 100 different conditions which are characterised by the impairment of brain functions, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills. 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 in nature and irreversible.
Dementia is not a natural part of ageing, although the great majority of people with dementia are older people. Many diseases can cause dementia, the most common being Alzheimer disease. Other common forms include Vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia (including Pick disease) and mixed forms of dementia.
In the early stages of the condition, close family and friends may notice symptoms such as memory loss and difficulties with finding familiar words, but the casual observer may not notice any symptoms. 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.
On 10 August 2012, the Australian Health Ministers recognised dementia as the ninth National Health Priority Area.
The Hospital Dementia Services Project (HDS Project) is an NHMRC-funded project which is looking at outcomes for people with dementia admitted to NSW hospitals. Findings from this project have been published in several journal articles and AIHW reports available from the HDS web page above.
Alzheimer's Australia with funding from the JO & JR Wicking Trust commissioned AIHW to explore the costs of hospital care for people with dementia. The costing work uses data from the Hospitals Dementia Services Project and innovative methods, building on previous work in this area, to estimate the cost of caring for people with dementia in New South Wales public hospitals. The report also presents a wide range strategies and practices being implemented in Australia and internationally that aim to both reduce the costs of care and improve the care experience for people with dementia and their families.
The average cost of hospital care for people with dementia in NSW public hospitals during 2006-07 was generally higher than for people without dementia ($7,720 compared with $5,010 per episode). The total cost of hospital care was estimated to be $462 million, of which around $162 million may be associated with dementia. The full report was published in March 2013 and is available free to download.
The AIHW reports on dementia in many aged care publications.