Dementia burden set to soar

There will be well over a million Australians with dementia by mid-century, with major consequences for the health and aged care systems.

The focus on aged care services is set to intensify with the release of an Alzheimer’s Australia study which predicts that dementia will be the costliest health condition in Australia by 2060.

The report estimates that without a significant breakthrough, the number of Australians with dementia will quadruple to 1.1 million in 2050.

This is a significant increase from four years ago, when it was estimated that just over 730,000 people would be living with dementia by mid-century.

The report’s author, Lynne Pezzullo from Access Economics said there were a number of reasons for the upgraded prediction including new census data and growing dementia rates.

“It’s probably because of an increase in earlier diagnoses,” she said. “But it also may be that the rates of dementia are actually increasing in the population.”

Ms Pezzullo added that the impacts of the dementia epidemic would begin to be felt next year when the first baby boomers reach the age of 65.

By 2020, the report says there will be 75,000 baby boomers living with dementia.

“The ageing of the population that we have seen up to now is nothing compared to what’s coming in the next 20 years,” Ms Pezzullo said

“That will have massive impacts on the health and ageing system like we have never seen historically and one of those impacts will be dementia.”

The CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia, Glenn Rees said the report demonstrates that dementia is going to be an important driver of aged care policy and funding.

But he also believes the broader health system needs to pay closer attention to dementia.

“There is almost a Pavlovian reaction to flick anything that is aged care related to the Minister for Ageing – but there needs to be a broader interest, particularly with dementia,” he said.

“Those responsible for health policy should take a greater interest in ageing and ensuring that action is being taken in an integrated way in the health and aged care systems. That is not happening at the moment – not with dementia.”

Ageing Minister Justine Elliot said the Rudd Government recognises the importance of having a health and aged care system that responds to the challenge of dementia.

“That is why it commissioned the work of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) and that is why it is engaging the nation in a conversation about the future of our health and aged care systems,” she said.

However Ms Pezzullo said the NHHRC reform blueprint left “a bit of a gap” when it came to dementia. The report’s executive summary failed to mention the condition.

“The reality is that we need to have dementia very much front of mind as we think about health policy and planning,” Ms Pezzullo said.

The report calls for more resources to be devoted to the early detection and prevention of dementia.

It estimates that if that if the number of physically inactive Australians decreased by 20 per cent, there would be six per cent fewer cases of dementia in 2050.

The new figures come three weeks before World Alzheimer’s Day when it is expected that Alzheimer’s Australia will present its case for an increase in current dementia spending.

“There needs to be a recognition that the reform should not just be about changing policy directions and funding responsibilities,” said Mr Rees.

“There is a also need for increased funding in key areas, particularly capital spending in aged care if providers are going to have the capacity to build the facilities that will be needed in the future.”

Tags: alzheimers-australia, dementia, dementia-research,

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