Around 43% of the overall dementia burden in 2018 could have been avoided if exposure to 6 lifestyle risk factors (overweight including obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco smoking, high blood pressure in midlife, high blood plasma glucose levels, and impaired kidney function) were reduced.
See Burden of disease due to dementia for detailed information on burden attributable to specific risk factors.
Treatment, management and support
GP and specialist services
Services provided by general practitioners (GPs) and other medical specialists are crucial in diagnosing and managing dementia. If a GP suspects dementia, they typically refer the patient to a qualified specialist, such as a geriatrician, or to a memory clinic for a comprehensive assessment (Dementia Australia 2020).
How is dementia diagnosed?
There is no single conclusive test available to diagnose dementia, and obtaining a diagnosis often involves a combination of comprehensive cognitive and medical assessments.
Identifying the type of dementia at the time of diagnosis is important to ensure access to appropriate treatment and services. However, there are many forms of dementia with symptoms in common, often making diagnosis a lengthy and complex process involving multiple health professionals (see How is dementia diagnosed?).
Data on GP and specialist services across Australia are a major enduring gap for dementia monitoring. However, recent advancements in data linkage have enabled the examination of these services – see GP and specialist services overview.
In 2016–17, about half (49%) of all services claimed under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) by people with dementia were for GP consultations, with an average of 20 GP consultations per year, per person with dementia.
Consultations with medical specialists, other than GPs, accounted for 12% of all MBS services used by people with dementia. On average, a person with dementia had 5 specialist services in 2016–17.
The types of specialist services used varied by age, with psychiatrists and neurologists most frequent among people with younger onset dementia (aged under 65), and specialists treating age-related conditions, such as geriatricians and ophthalmologists, increasing in frequency with age.
For more information about patterns of health service use among people with younger onset dementia see Younger onset dementia: new insights using linked data.
Although there is no cure for dementia, there are 4 medicines, subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, that may alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2019–20, there were over 623,000 prescriptions dispensed for dementia-specific medications to just under 64,600 Australians with dementia aged 30 and over. There was a 43% increase in scripts dispensed for dementia-specific medications between 2012–13 and 2019–20.
People with dementia may experience changed behaviours, such as aggression, agitation and delusions, commonly known as behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. Non-pharmacological interventions are recommended to manage these symptoms, but antipsychotic medicines may be prescribed as a last resort.
In 2019–20, antipsychotic medications were dispensed to about one-fifth (21%) of the 64,600 people who had scripts dispensed for dementia-specific medication.
For information on medicine types, see Prescriptions for dementia-specific medications.
In 2020–21, there were more than 11.8 million hospitalisations in Australia (AIHW 2022). Of these, dementia was the main reason for admission for about 25,500 hospitalisations, which is equivalent to 2 out of every 1,000 hospitalisations.
For people with dementia, the average length of stay was almost 5 times as long as the average for all hospitalisations (13 days and 2.6 days, respectively). Of the hospitalisations due to dementia, 62% of patients were aged 75–89 (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Hospitalisations due to dementia, by age and sex, 2020–21