Dementia: rates set to double, leading cause of death in women
Dementia, an umbrella term for several conditions that gradually impair brain function, was the leading cause of death among women — around 9200 deaths in 2019. This is according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Dementia in Australia report.
It was the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind coronary heart disease, accounting for about 14,700 deaths in 2019 — around 9.5% of all deaths that year.
The report, launched by Senator Richard Colbeck, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, is said to be the first comprehensive ‘compendium’ report on dementia since 2012 and it provides the latest statistics on population health impacts, carers and care needs, health and aged care service use and direct expenditure in relation to dementia.
“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,” said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fleur de Crespigny.
Ageing increases your risk of developing dementia, but dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. One in 12 Australians aged 65 and over are living with dementia, and this increases to 2 in 5 Australians aged 90 and over. Nearly two-thirds of Australians living with dementia are women.
“Although dementia is often considered to be an older person’s disease, it’s also estimated over 27,800 Australians aged under 65 are living with younger onset dementia,” Dr de Crespigny said.
The rate of dementia among Indigenous Australians is estimated to be 3–5 times as high as the rate for Australians overall. In 2019, dementia was the 5th leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians aged 65 and over. With an ageing Indigenous Australian population, it is expected that the impact of dementia among Indigenous Australians will continue to rise in the future.
Health and aged care
“In 2018–19, $3 billion of health and aged care spending was directly attributable to dementia. This included $1.7 billion on residential aged care services, $596 million on community-based aged care services and $383 million on hospital services,” Dr de Crespigny said.
There is no known cure for dementia, but there are medications that may help manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2019–20, there were over 623,300 prescriptions dispensed for dementia-specific medications to about 64,600 Australians with dementia aged 30 and over.
“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.”
In the community
“The majority (65%) 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.”
Cultural backgrounds can affect how health and aged care services are used. Almost half of people with dementia who were born in non-English speaking countries and were living in the community relied on care from family and friends only. By contrast, only 30% of people with dementia who were born in English-speaking countries and were living in the community relied on care from family and friends only.
Dementia Australia Chief Executive Officer Maree McCabe AM said, “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.”
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