Alzheimer’s Australia president, Ita Buttrose, urged the federal government to “give dementia the attention it deserves” as she addressed delegates at day one of the National Aged Care Conference in Adelaide on Monday.
“People with dementia are people. They are not defined by their diagnosis so giving dementia the attention it deserves should start with fully understanding the disease.
“And I have to say the federal government’s Living longer. Living Better aged care reform package to tackling dementia is a pretty good start,” she added.
Ms Buttrose (pictured) claimed a person’s understanding and attitude to people living with dementia could determine how a person diagnosed with the disease and their carers and families could learn to accept and live with the condition.
“The stigma around dementia is profound. Understanding is a critical first step to counteract dementia to improving quality of life.”
She added if dementia was not recognised as a chronic disease, it would be “much harder to persuade the wider Australian society that it was not a natural part of ageing”.
“For that reason, we regard the commitment to make dementia a national health priority, alongside the eight other priorities like cancer and heart disease. It is one of the most important elements of the government’s Living longer. Living better reform package.”
As the principal carer of her father who lived with vascular dementia, the second most prevalent form of dementia after Alzheimer’s, Ms Buttrose told delegates she understood the “tears and laughter of the journey of dementia”.
She stated dementia would not get the attention it deserves unless “we look at ways of improving the care system and strategies to reducing the future numbers of people with dementia”.
“If we don’t encourage some of our best emerging researchers to investigate brain health, we will be in no better position in decades to come.
“Dementia needs to be a major health objective. This is not a naive dream of finding a cure, but rather of identifying those treatments to delay its progression to achieve dementia-free lives.”
She confessed there was a “long way to go” to reducing the number of those diagnosed with the disease.
“I could stand here all day and tell you why we should give dementia the attention it deserves, but what better reason could there be than to avoid the impact it has on people, families and carers?” she asked.
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, revealed on Monday that he and Minister for Health, Tanya Pilbersek, will meet with state, territory and commonwealth ministers on Friday to propose that dementia be added to the existing list of eight national health priorities.