Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Dementia in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 26 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Dementia in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dementia/dementia-in-aus
Dementia in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 20 September 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dementia/dementia-in-aus
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Dementia in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 26]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dementia/dementia-in-aus
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Dementia in Australia, viewed 26 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dementia/dementia-in-aus
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Australia was one of the first countries to design comprehensive dementia-specific policy initiatives at a national level, as a response to the rising challenges of an expanding and ageing population and advocacy from groups such as the then Alzheimer’s Association of Australia (Hunter & Doyle 2014).
The first federal dementia policy initiative was launched in 1992 (the National Plan for Dementia Care 1992–97) and succeeding policy initiatives have cemented dementia as a key priority in the national aged care agenda. Dementia has also been increasingly recognised as a national health priority requiring a focus on preventive strategies, high-quality health and social care, and investments in medical research (Hunter & Doyle 2014; Department of Health 2015). In 2017, the World Health Organization developed The Global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017-2025 to encourage a concerted international effort to address the global impacts of dementia. The global action plan was adopted by Australia and other Member States (World Health Organization 2017).
This webpage focuses on:
While this page focuses on the national policy response to dementia by the federal government, it is acknowledged that governments at all levels develop and deliver dementia-specific policies and services. State and territory governments also fund (in full or part) essential services like: memory clinics; geriatric evaluations and aged care visiting services; older adult mental health services; hospital to residential aged care transition services; and support for people experiencing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (Royal Commission 2019). Some of these essential services also receive federal government funding, for example through the Medicare Benefits Schedule or through specific programs and initiatives (e.g. Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service, Severe Behaviour Response Teams and the Specialist Dementia Care Program).
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (Royal Commission) was set up in 2018 to look into issues related to the quality of residential and in-home aged care. The Royal Commission’s final report, Care, Dignity and Respect, was tabled in the Australian Parliament on 1 March 2021. This report included 148 wide-ranging recommendations for fundamental reform of the aged care system.
The Royal Commission identified 4 areas in need of immediate attention: food and nutrition; care and support for people living with dementia; elimination and reduction of restrictive practices; and palliative care (Royal Commission 2021).
Other recommendations specific to dementia from the final report, are:
Furthermore, the Royal Commission also recommended substantial improvements to aged care data and research, which are a promising source of information to close existing dementia data gaps. Recommendations include the creation of a National Aged Care Data Asset to monitor and report on: people accessing aged care, their needs and services used; the aged care workforce; financial and other characteristics of providers including quality of care measures (Royal Commission 2021).
In response to the final report of the Royal Commission, the Australian Government, through the 2021–22 Federal Budget, announced a $17.7 billion aged care reform package over 4 years. These measures are expected to deliver significant reform in aged care, providing care, dignity and respect to senior Australians.
As part of this reform, the government is investing over $229 million over 4 years to support people living with dementia and their carers. The investment will ensure people living with dementia are connected with the support they need post-diagnosis, are enabled to remain in their home for longer, and are able to access high-quality, dementia-informed aged care services. Key measures include:
The reform also includes funding to improve dementia data collection and understanding and develop new National Design Standards for residential aged care, incorporating dementia-friendly design. A more detailed description on the Australian Government’s response to the final report can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
The National Framework for Action on Dementia 2015–2019 (‘the Framework’) was developed under the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council to set high-level priorities of dementia care, guide the development and implementation of plans and policies, including measurable actions in order to reduce the risk of dementia, and improve outcomes for people with dementia and their carers (Department of Health 2015). A review of the Framework was undertaken in 2019 and finalised in early 2020. The review was conducted in order to assist development of a future national dementia strategy. Engagement on the development of this strategy was put on hold during 2020 due to COVID-19 and the re-prioritisation of activities managed through the National Cabinet structures.
In late 2021 the Australian Government will commence development of a new national dementia plan that will be informed by the 2019 Framework review and the Australian Government’s response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. This work will occur in consultation with state and territory governments and other key stakeholders, including people living with dementia and their families, Dementia Australia, health professionals, aged care providers and researchers.
In 2017 the Australian Government also launched the Aged Care Diversity Framework and associated action plans to address the needs of older Australians from diverse backgrounds, including those with cognitive impairment and dementia. The Diversity Framework provides a mechanism for government, aged care providers, peak bodies and representative groups, service users, and their families and carers, to ensure diversity is embedded in the design and delivery of aged care services.
Australian dementia researchers funded by the Australian Government through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have a renowned reputation for producing international-leading work (Hunter & Doyle 2014). Australian research has high potential to positively impact Australians with dementia, particularly when research is collaborative and conducted on a large-scale (Moira Clay Consulting 2021).
Starting in 2014, the government funded a 5-year $200 million dementia research expansion coordinated by the then NHMRC National Institute for Dementia Research (NNIDR) (Royal Commission 2019a). While allocation of the funding for the NNIDR concluded in 2019, the NHMRC still offers dedicated dementia-specific research funding opportunities (NHMRC 2021).
The NHMRC has also awarded funding to the Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT)—a network of scientists and researchers across a number of institutions. ADNet aims to: establish Australia’s first dementia clinical quality registry to monitor, report and improve clinical care for people with dementia; establish a collaborative network of memory clinics and develop best practice guidelines for dementia diagnosis treatment and management; and establish screening sites for people with dementia who are suitable for participation in clinical trials.
The government also funds a broad range of research and innovation projects on emerging priorities in dementia:
There are still persistent gaps in national data that limit monitoring and reporting on dementia in Australia and planning for dementia programs and services. The recent investment of funding for a national dementia monitoring program and dementia data improvements and development will look to address these gaps over the next decade. For more information on current dementia data gaps, and ways in which these gaps can be systematically and strategically addressed, see the 2020 AIHW report: Dementia data gaps and opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an especially devastating impact on older Australians, including those with dementia. Through the National COVID-19 Aged Care Plan developed in January 2020, the Australian Government has made significant investment to support people through the pandemic. The plan has since been adapted to respond to outbreaks in residential aged care homes. As of 22 July 2021, 8.6% of residential aged care residents and staff members have had reported cases of COVID-19 (accounting for over 7 out of every 10 deaths due to COVID-19) (Department of Health 2021a).
In October 2020, the Royal Commission delivered a special report on COVID-19 in aged care and made the following recommendations to better prepare the aged care sector, its staff and people accessing services, for any future outbreaks:
The Australian Government accepted these recommendations with actions underway to address these recommendations (Department of Health 2020).
The Australian Government has also introduced a number of measures to assist in improving COVID-19 vaccination uptake and delivery among people living in residential aged care and aged care staff. This includes vaccination reporting requirements for residential and in-home aged care providers, as well as funding grants to support residential aged care employee vaccinations (Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission 2021).
As of 17 August 2021, 73% of Australians aged 50 and over and 84% aged 70 and over, had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Around 40% aged 50 and over and 54% aged 70 and over, had received their second dose and were considered fully vaccinated (Department of Health 2021b).
Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission 2021. Coronavirus (COVID-19) information and resources. Canberra: Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Department of Health (Australian Government Department of Health) 2015. National Framework for Action on Dementia 2015–2019. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.
Department of Health 2017. Aged Care Diversity Framework. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.
Department of Health 2020. Australian Government Implementation Progress Report on the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety report – Aged Care and COVID-19 – a special report. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.
Department of Health 2021a. COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities: 16 October 2020. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.
Department of Health 2021b. COVID-19 vaccination – Doses by age and sex. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.
Hunter C & Doyle C 2014. Dementia policy in Australia and the 'Social Construction' of infirm old age. Health & History: Journal of the Australian & New Zealand Society for the History of Medicine 16(2):44–62.
Moira Clay Consulting 2021. A Snapshot of High Potential Impact Research on Dementia in Australia.
NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2021. Dementia research.
Royal Commission (Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety) 2019. Statement of Josephine Mond: Assistant Secretary, Dementia and Supported Ageing Branch, Residential and Flexible Aged Care Division, Commonwealth Department of Health (WIT.0144.0001.0001).
Royal Commission 2020. Aged care and COVID-19: a special report.
Royal Commission 2021. Final report: Care, Dignity and Respect.
World Health Organization 2017. Global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017–2025.
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