Damning new report: Australians with dementia set to double by 2058

The rates of dementia in Australia are set to double by 2058 Source: Getty

One in 12 Australians aged 65 and over are living with dementia, according to a new report released today, which reveals these figures increase to two in five for Aussies aged 90 and over.

The Dementia in Australia report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), has unveiled sobering statistics when it comes to the disease, with dementia the second-leading cause of death in this country.

The report, released to coincide with Dementia Action Week, which starts today, is the AIHW’s most comprehensive ‘compendium’ report on dementia since 2012, and provides the latest figures on population health impacts, carers and care needs; health and aged care service use; and direct expenditure in relation to dementia.

“Dementia is an umbrella term for a large number of conditions that gradually impair brain function,” AIHW spokesperson Dr Fleur de Crespigny said. “It poses a substantial health, aged care and societal challenge and — with Australia’s rapidly ageing population — it is predicted to become an even bigger challenge in the future.

“Dementia was responsible for about 14,700 deaths in 2019 — accounting for 9.5 per cent of all deaths that year. It was the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind coronary heart disease, and it was the leading cause of death among women.”

The AIHW estimates the number of Australians living with dementia in 2021 ranges from 386,200 to 472,000, with the lowest figure expected to more than double to 849,300 by 2058.

The cost of dementia

“In 2018-19, $3 billion in health and aged care spending was directly attributable to dementia,” de Crespigney said. 

“The majority – 65 per cent – of people with dementia live in the community, many of whom require care and assistance from family and friends to continue doing so.

“In 2021, it is estimated that up to 337,200 Australians are providing constant unpaid care for a person with dementia, with over half of primary carers providing an average of 60 or more hours of unpaid care each week.”

More critical statistics

  • 623,300 scripts for dementia-specific medications were dispensed to almost 64,600 Australians in 2019-20
  • People hospitalised for dementia stayed five times longer than the average hospitalisation
  • Half of unpaid carers provide on average 60+ hours of care every week
  • One in four primary carers reported that more respite care was needed to support them

What is dementia?

According to the AIHW, dementia does not refer to one single specific condition but is more of an umbrella term for a large number of conditions that gradually impair brain function, which may result in changes in cognition, language, memory, perception, personality, behaviour, mobility and other physical impairments.

While the likelihood of developing dementia increases with age, the good news is it is not an inevitable part of ageing. 

How is dementia diagnosed?

The AIHW states there is no single conclusive test available to diagnose the disease, which can involve a long process of comprehensive cognitive and medical assessments.

General Practitioners (GPs) are often the first point of contact for those who suspect someone close to them may have dementia, who should then refer patients to qualified specialists or memory clinics for more detailed tests.

The three stages of dementia

  • Mild dementia: difficulties with a number of areas, such as memory, planning, organisation and personal care, but the person can still function with minimal assistance.
  • Moderate dementia: difficulties becoming more severe and increasing levels of assistance are required to help the person maintain functioning in their home and community.
  • Severe or advanced dementia: almost total dependence on care and supervision by others.

Types of dementia

  • Alzheimer’s disease: a degenerative brain disease caused by nerve cell death, resulting in shrinkage of the brain.
  • Vascular dementia: a disease that is mainly caused by issues with blood flow to the brain (such as a stroke) or bleeding into or around the brain.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies: a disease caused by degeneration and death of nerve cells in the brain, due to the presence of abnormal spherical structures, called Lewy bodies, which develop inside nerve cells.
  • Frontotemporal dementia: a disease that is caused by progressive damage to the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain.

Modifiable risk factors include excessive alcohol consumption, obesity in mid-life, diabetes, high blood pressure in mid-life, physical inactivity, tobacco smoking, social isolation and air pollution. Other modifiable risk factors include hearing loss in mid-life, low levels of education in early life, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, traumatic brain injury and high homocysteine levels.

Non-modifiable risk factors include age (the risk of developing dementia doubles every five or six years for people aged over 65); family history of the condition; and genetic mutations.

Ways to reduce your risk of dementia

  • Undertaking regular physical activity
  • Keeping mentally stimulated
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Embracing an active social life
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing health conditions
  • Quitting smoking.

According to the AIHW report, Australia ranks 17th lowest out of 36 countries measured by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD estimates that 14.6 in every 1,000 Australians were living in dementia in 2019, compared with Mexico, which recorded the lowest rate of 7.6 people per 1,000 population, and Japan at the highest with a rate of 24.8 per 1,000.

More resources

Dementia Australia: https://website.dementia.org.au/

National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500

Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service: 1800 699 799


IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Should more funding be injected into dementia research?

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