The government needs to confront dementia in the same way it has tackled cancer and heart disease, according to Alzheimer’s Australia.

In its 2010 federal budget submission, the organisation outlines a $1 billion, five-year plan which includes extra funding for research and improved public awareness.

According to CEO, Glenn Rees, dementia is the “poor cousin” of other chronic diseases.

“I think the case is compelling,” he said. “If you accept that dementia is a chronic disease and not a natural part of ageing – which is what the clinicians and researchers tell us – then you have to ask why it is treated differently from cancer and heart disease.

“Why have we not adopted the same strategies which were adopted for them last century?”

A report commissioned by Alzheimer’s Australia last year predicted that there would be more than one million Australians living with dementia by 2050.

Mr Rees told the National Dementia Congress in Melbourne that Australia led the world with the introduction of the National Dementia Initiative in 2005.

But he said now it was time to take the next step in dementia policy by focusing on risk reduction, primary care initiatives and raising awareness.

“Australia has done reasonably well in caring for people with dementia in aged care programs but there is little ownership of dementia by the healthcare system,” Mr Rees said.

“When you look at primary care, research dollars and national prevention programs there is little or no mention of dementia.”

Earlier this month an Oxford University report found that the cost of dementia in the UK is higher than the combined cost of heart disease and cancer.

However the Dementia 2010 report said that research on dementia receives 12 times less support than cancer.

“The UK’s dementia crisis is worse than we feared,” said the CEO of the UK’s Alzheimer’s Research Trust, Rebecca Wood.

“This report shows that dementia is the greatest medical challenge of the 21st century.”

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