In this section, the short-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who died during the first 10 months of 2020 and had dementia recorded on their death certificate, is assessed by comparing the age-standardised death rate in the first 10 months of 2020 with the average age-standardised rate over the same months in previous years (2015–19).
The average of 2015–19 was selected because in Australia, the age-standardised rate of deaths among people with dementia recorded on their death certificate has remained relatively stable over this period. Increases in the number of people who die from dementia over time is mainly a result of the ageing Australian population. The section below presents information on recent trends in deaths data on dementia and other common causes of deaths in Australia.
In Australia, death rates usually vary by demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the population for most conditions, including dementia. For example, death rates tend to be slightly higher for people with dementia living in the lowest socioeconomic areas compared with the highest socioeconomic areas. As we aim to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dementia mortality and not just to describe known patterns of dementia mortality, our key findings focus on describing mortality patterns among people who died with dementia recorded on their death certificate in 2020 relative to average trends in recent years (2015–19). For more information about demographic patterns in dementia mortality in Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic, refer to the AIHW report: Mortality over regions and time (MORT) books.
How do we measure the short-term effects of the pandemic?
In Australia, the number of people who die due to dementia has been steadily increasing (AIHW 2020a). However, the age-standardised death rates due to dementia over time—which account for population growth and ageing—has remained relatively stable in recent years (between 2015 and 2019). This suggests that the increasing number of deaths due to dementia is mainly due to Australia’s ageing population. In contrast, for other leading causes of death, such as ischaemic heart diseases and cerebrovascular diseases, the rate of deaths has been falling in recent years (see Figure 2).