When people think about the cause of death in Australia, chances are cancer, heart attacks and strokes come to mind. What many don’t realise is dementia is a growing problem and a health issue that people need to start taking seriously.
Dementia is currently the second leading cause of death in the country, with the numbers increasing dramatically over the past 10 years. There has been a 68 per cent increase in dementia cases over the last decade, while death as the result of other leading health issues such as ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases have declined.
New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that deaths from dementia increase from 33.1 deaths per 10,000 people in 2009, to 41.6 per 100,000 in 2017. It has led health professionals to issue a warning not only to the Australian public, but to health professionals to invest more in dementia research, service, and support. In addition, there are calls for more education and awareness about the cognitive disease.
“If this trend continues, dementia, sadly, will become the leading cause of death of all Australians in just a few years,” Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said in a statement. “Dementia must be a health and ageing policy priority for all state and federal governments, health services and the aged care sector.”
While dementia is the country’s second leading cause of death overall, it is actually the leading cause of death for women. There are currently 436,000 Australians living with dementia and around 1.45 million people caring for someone with dementia.
“It is clearly one of the biggest public health challenges facing Australia,” McCabe warned.
In 2017, there were 18,590 deaths due to ischaemic heart attacks, while 13,729 died of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Not far behind was cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes, with 10,186.
Ischaemic heart diseases deaths fell from 23,813 in 2009, while cerebrovascular diseases dropped from 11,979. In contrast, dementia deaths rose from 8,172. There are around 250 new cases of dementia every day, with experts predicting 590,000 could be living with the cognitive conditions in 10 years. If the numbers don’t start decreasing, the number could jump to 1.1 million by 2058.
While the health condition itself is frightening enough, many face social isolation after a diagnosis, with friends, family and community members often struggling to understand how to provide the best support.
“Dementia can be one of the most profoundly isolating conditions, despite the fact it is impacting so many people,” McCabe said. “What has been heartening to see though, is that 80 per cent of people surveyed [as part of the Inclusion and Isolation: The contrasting community attitudes to dementia survey] had heard of dementia and, of those people, a further three in four people were able to correctly identify basic facts about dementia.”
Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a term given to a group of conditions that impact brain function. It can cause memory problems, restrict social skills and impact daily functions. Anyone concerned about themselves or a loved one should talk to a GP or health professional.