By Yasmin Noone
In just over seven years, the number of Australians living with dementia will be 30 per cent greater than they are today, according to new projections released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The institute’s vision of the near future indicates that almost 400,000 Australians will be living with the terminal illness in 2020 – a third more than last year’s calculation of 298,000.
And, in just over 37 years, the number of Australians living with the disease will shoot up to 900,000 if something drastic is not done now.
The current situation however is not that bright either. The report, Dementia in Australia, also recaps statistics from the past two years and states that in 2010 dementia was the third leading single cause of death in Australia, responsible for 25 deaths on average every day, all around the country.
In 2010, twice as many women died from dementia compared with men (6,083 and 2,920 respectively), and the annual number of deaths from dementia was about 9,000.
In 2011, women accounted for more than 60 per cent of the current population living with dementia and almost 75 per cent of all those diagnosed were aged over 75.
The number of deaths due to dementia increased 2.4 times between 2001 and 2010, from 3,740 to 9,003 deaths.
“Estimates for 2011 suggest that dementia was the fourth leading cause of overall burden of disease, and the third leading cause of disability burden,” the report states.
“For people aged 65 and over, dementia was the second leading cause of overall burden of disease and the leading cause of disability burden, accounting for a sixth of the total disability burden in older Australians.”
CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia, Glenn Rees, said that the new independent report provides further evidence of the need for governments, communities and researchers to tackle the dementia epidemic now.
“Investment in dementia research is the key to identifying those at risk of dementia and developing new treatments,” Mr Rees said.
“Yet, dementia research is grossly underfunded compared to other chronic diseases.
“Currently only $24 million is spent on dementia research by the National Health and Medical Research Council – less than 0.5 per cent of the health care costs of dementia.”
Alzheimer’s Australia’s Fight Dementia campaign – part two – aims to achieve a government commitment to providing $200 million over five years in the 2013 federal budget for dementia research.
“This is necessary to build research capacity for the future, fund research projects and promote the translation of research into practice,” he said.
“But even if new treatments are developed it is clear that there will be increasing numbers of people with dementia who will be in need of care by the middle of the century.”
The impact of dementia on health and aged care systems
The report was launched in Canberra by AIHW director and CEO, David Kalisch, and president of Alzheimer’s Australia, Ita Buttrose, during Dementia Awareness Week this week.
It states there are currently 23,900 Australians, under the age of 65, living with the condition.
“Many people with dementia have other health conditions, adding to the range and complexity of care needs,” Mr Kalisch said.
But, he added, “as any person with relatives or friends who have dementia knows, it has a marked impact on quality of life not only for those with the condition, but their families and friends as well”.
In 2009-10, about one-in-two residents in residential aged care had dementia and three-in-10 people aged 85 and over had dementia.
Over 550,000 general practitioner (GP) attendances in 2010-11 involved the management of dementia.
Total direct health and aged care system expenditure on people with dementia was at least $4.9 billion in 2009–10, of which about $2.0 billion was directly attributable to dementia.
Of this, $1.1 billion was for permanent residents in residential aged care facilities and $408.0 million was for community aged care services.
Estimates also suggest that in 2011 there were around 200,000 informal carers of people with dementia living in the community.
“It is significant that dementia is now a NHPA alongside cancer and eight other chronic diseases,” Mr Rees said.
“But the missing piece of the action was investment in dementia research.”