New report looks at the impacts of dementia in Australia

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the number of people living with it is continuing to increase, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Dementia in Australia, was launched today at an online event by Senator the Hon. Richard Colbeck, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services. It is the AIHW’s first comprehensive ‘compendium’ report on dementia since 2012 and it provides the latest statistics on population health impacts, carers and care needs, health and aged care service use and direct expenditure in relation to dementia.

‘Dementia is an umbrella term for a large number of conditions that gradually impair brain function. It poses a substantial heath, aged care and societal challenge and with Australia’s rapidly ageing population, it is predicted to become an even bigger challenge in the future,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr. Fleur de Crespigny.

‘Dementia was responsible for about 14,700 deaths in 2019–accounting for 9.5% of all deaths that year. It was the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind coronary heart disease and it was the leading cause of death among women (around 9,200 deaths in 2019). Estimates of the number people in Australia living with dementia in 2021 range from 386,200 to 472,000. Using the AIHW estimate of 386,200, the number of Australians living with dementia is expected to more than double to 849,300 in 2058.’

Ageing increases your risk of developing dementia, but dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. One in 12 Australians aged 65 and over are living with dementia, and this increases to 2 in 5 Australians aged 90 and over. Nearly two-thirds of Australians living with dementia are women.

‘Although dementia is often considered to be an older person’s disease, it’s also estimated over 27,800 Australians aged under 65 are living with younger onset dementia,’ Dr. de Crespigny said.

The rate of dementia among Indigenous Australians is estimated to be 3–5 times as high as the rate for Australians overall. In 2019, dementia was the 5th leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians aged 65 and over. With an ageing Indigenous Australian population, it is expected that the impact of dementia among Indigenous Australians will continue to rise in the future.

‘In 2018–19, $3 billion of health and aged care spending was directly attributable to dementia. This included $1.7 billion on residential aged care services, $596 million on community-based aged care services and $383 million on hospital services,’ Dr. de Crespigny said.  

There is no known cure for dementia, but there are medications that may help manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2019–20, there were over 623,300 prescriptions dispensed for dementia-specific medications to about 64,600 Australians with dementia aged 30 and over.

 ‘Most people in the advanced stages of dementia rely on care and support provided by residential aged care services. Over half of the people living in permanent residential aged care have dementia. In 2019–20, one-third of younger people (aged under 65) living in permanent residential aged care had younger onset dementia.’

‘The majority (65%) of people with dementia live in the community, many of whom require care and assistance from family and friends to continue doing so. In 2021, it is estimated that up to 337,200 Australians are providing constant unpaid care for a person with dementia, with over half of primary carers providing an average of 60 or more hours of unpaid care each week.’

Cultural backgrounds can affect how health and aged care services are used. Almost half of people with dementia who were born in non-English speaking countries and were living in the community, relied on care from family and friends only. By contrast, only 30% of people with dementia who were born in English-speaking countries and were living in the community, relied on care from family and friends only. Dementia Australia Chief Executive Officer Maree McCabe AM welcomed the report and ongoing work by the AIHW to improve data about dementia.

‘Better data about the experiences of Australians living with dementia and the people who care for them are essential and these can be used to improve policies and support services for those who need them most,’ Ms. McCabe said.

Today’s launch included a Dementia Advocate who discussed some of her experiences of living with younger onset dementia.

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