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Dementia revealed as leading cause of death for Australian women

The impact of dementia on Australian society is once again in the spotlight following a new report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that shows dementia has now overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death among Australian women.

More Australian women are now dying from dementia than heart disease, according to ABS (Source: Shutterstock)
More Australian women are now dying from dementia than heart disease, according to ABS (Source: Shutterstock)

According to ‘The Cause of Death 2016’ report, 8,447 women died from dementia in 2016, a noted increase of 196 deaths compared with 8,251 in 2015.

While heart disease remains the top leading cause of death for all Australians, the ABS found that improvements and prevention of heart disease have contributed to increased life expectancy, and that deaths from conditions such as dementia have continued to increase.

Overall, the report shows that 1 in 12 of the 158,504 deaths in Australia had dementia as the underlying cause – equating to around 36 deaths per day. It also shows that in 2016 dementia accounted for 40.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 compared with 30.7 in 2007.

Following the release of the landmark statistics, Alzheimer’s Australia Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Maree McCabe says it is disappointing to see that dementia is now the leading cause of death for Australian women and that the overall rates for dementia are increasing.

“This fact combined with the increasing prevalence of dementia is surely a cause of concern for all Australians,” she says.

“While we are living longer lives, more and more of our mothers, sisters, daughters and partners face a future of living with dementia and eventually dying of dementia.”

The ABS statistics show that while heart disease remains as the leading cause of death for Australian men, it is likely to be surpassed by dementia, which currently sits as the third leading cause of death for Australian men, as treatments for other leading causes of death like heart disease continue to improve.

It is also predicted that dementia will soon be the overall leading cause of death in Australia.

Ms McCabe says that the new data from the ABS highlights the need to continue the commitment to fund a cure for dementia while continuing to educate the community and raise awareness about dementia.

“Dementia is undoubtedly one of the biggest public health challenges facing Australia, with more than 413,000 Australians living with dementia and an estimated 1.2 million people involved in the care of someone with dementia,” she says.

“Without a significant medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to grow to 1.1 million by 2056.

“This new data shows the enormous impact that dementia has, and will continue to have, on our health system, our communities and our society in general.

“As a nation we need to do more to reduce people’s risk of dementia so that the onset of dementia in individuals is avoided or delayed, resulting in fewer people in the community having dementia.

“While it is heartening to see that less Australian women are dying from heart disease due to better treatment options and support, there is still no cure for dementia and people with dementia still struggle to find appropriate support and services.

“More than ever we need to focus on solutions that will meet the specific needs of people living with dementia and their carers and families.

“This includes a multipronged strategy that can reduce the risk and prevalence of dementia, while still building capacity within our communities to understand the needs of people with dementia, and giving people with dementia and their family and carers the specialised support they need in navigating our complex health system.”

While there is currently no cure for dementia, Ms McCabe says there are ways to reduce the risk of dementia and that few Australians know about it nor understand how to do so.

“What is good for your heart is good for your brain,” she explains.

“This includes keeping physically active, mentally challenged, eating a brain healthy diet, getting regular health checks and remaining socially engaged.”

As well as providing assistance and support, Alzheimer’s Australia also run a ‘Your Brain Matters Program’ which works to educate Australians about brain health and alerts people to the links between lifestyle and health factors, their risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, and their risk of developing other chronic conditions.

Support for those living with dementia, their carers or family and friends is available by calling the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 1000 500.

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