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Dementia cases expected to double by 2058, says comprehensive AIHW report

A major report on dementia from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) was released this week, finding that dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the number of people developing the disease is growing at an alarming rate.

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One in 12 Australians aged 65 and over live with dementia and this number increases to two in five Australians aged 90 and over. [Source: Shutterstock]

It is expected that by 2058, dementia cases will double to 849,300 Australians from the estimated 386,000 - 472,000 people living with dementia in 2021.

The Dementia in Australia report was launched by the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck on Monday. Also announced at the launch was the establishment of AIHW's National Centre for Monitoring Dementia.

The aim of the Centre is to undertake routine monitoring of dementia, find data gaps and address them, and help inform policy that meets the needs of Australians with dementia.

Minister Colbeck says, "The report demonstrates the Institute’s expertise in producing the information and statistics that underpin our world-leading health and welfare systems.

"Health and aged care policy is always the better for being informed timely and accurate data and information. This is a valuable report that provides an updated comprehensive picture of dementia and its impacts on Australia’s health and aged care sectors."

AIHW says this was the first comprehensive report on dementia since 2012 and showcases the latest health impacts of dementia on the population, carers and care needs, health and aged care service use, and dementia cost.

Dr Fleur de Crespigny, spokesperson for AIHW, says, "Dementia is an umbrella term for a large number of conditions that gradually impair brain function. 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 percent 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 (around 9,200 deaths in 2019). 

"Estimates of the number of people in Australia living with dementia in 2021 range from 386,200 to 472,000. Using the AIHW estimate of 386,200, the number of Australians living with dementia is expected to more than double to 849,300 in 2058."

Ageing can increase your likelihood of developing dementia, however, dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing.

One in 12 Australians aged 65 and over live with dementia and this number increases to two in five Australians aged 90 and over. Additionally, two-thirds of people with dementia are women.

Dr de Crespigny says that while dementia is considered an older person's disease, the report also estimated that there are over 27,800 people in Australia aged under 65 who are living with younger onset dementia.

For people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, rates of dementia are three to five times higher than non-Indigenous Australians.

Due to an ageing Indigenous Australian population, AIHW believes the numbers of dementia among this group will continue to rise in the future.

With the AIHW projecting dementia to increase, the cost of providing health and care services to people with dementia is also likely to increase.

In 2018-19, around $3 billion of health and aged care spending went directly to dementia, including $1.7 billion to residential aged care services, $596 million on community based aged care services, and $383 million on hospital services.

In 2019-20, there were over 623,300 prescriptions dispensed for dementia specific medications to 64,600 Australians with dementia aged 30 and over. Between 2012-13 and 2019-20, there was a 43 percent increase in the number of scripts for dementia specific medications.

"Most people in the advanced stages of dementia rely on care and support provided by residential aged care services. Over half of the people living in permanent residential aged care have dementia. In 2019–20, one-third of younger people (aged under 65) living in permanent residential aged care had younger onset dementia," says Dr de Crespigny.

"The majority (65 percent) 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."

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM, has welcomed the report and the work from AIHW, which will improve the data and information available about dementia.

"Better data about the experiences of Australians living with dementia and the people who care for them are essential and these can be used to improve policies and support services for those who need them most," says Ms McCabe.

This report and the National Centre launch also coincides with Dementia Action Week, which started on 20 September.

To view the whole report, visit the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing website.

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