While dementia has already inflicted major social and economic damage on Australian society, there are fears that this so-called 21st Century plague will only get worse.
Experts claim the debilitating brain disorder has become a national crisis and figures revealing the condition’s devastating human impact certainly back this up.
• Almost 343,000 Australians over 65 currently live with dementia and this number is projected to reach more than half a million by 2030 and 900,000 by 2050.
• More than 25,000 Australians aged under 65 – many in their 30s and 40s – are also stricken by dementia. By 2050, almost 37,000 people in this age group will be victims of what is referred to as Younger Onset Dementia
• Dementia has risen to become the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind only heart disease
• There are 242 new cases of dementia diagnosed every day in Australia – one every six minutes
• Dementia is costing the Australian economy $6 billion a year in health care and lost productivity and there are now more than a million carers committed to helping sufferers
Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett told The New Daily that the nation needed to urgently boost efforts in the treatment, care and prevention of dementia.
“Dementia affects every Australian … the figures are so high that if you don’t have someone in your family with dementia then you will certainly know someone who is a sufferer,” she said.
“As the second leading cause of death now in this country, dementia is absolutely a national crisis and it’s only going to get worse.
“We need to act and we need to act now. Otherwise, we are running the risk of seeing a great deal of grief and massive economic impact as a result.”
Dementia describes the symptoms of a group of illnesses that progressively damage the brain, affecting a person’s thinking, behaviour and their ability to perform everyday tasks.
Initial symptoms can include impaired memory and concentration, eventually leading to the loss of basic functions such as walking and swallowing.
Age is a major risk factor and, as the disease gradually spreads through the brain, a person’s symptoms worsen to the point where their final years of life are destroyed.
While there is no cure for dementia, there are some treatments and medications that can help reduce symptoms.
Research is regarded as the key to finding more effective treatments and, possibly, a cure for dementia.
However, dementia support groups argue that there is a lack of research funding compared to other long-term conditions, such as cancer.
Earlier this month, Alzheimer’s Australia called for a “holistic plan” to tackle dementia in Australia, including more funding for research and the creation of dementia-friendly communities.
Ms Bennett urged the new Turnbull administration to introduce a National Dementia Strategy – a “critical piece to the puzzle” – similar to the successful program in the UK.
Her organisation wanted the government to treat dementia “more seriously” and would be seeking an urgent meeting with new Social Services Minister Christian Porter.
“We would also like to talk with Prime Minister Turnbull about his level of commitment to what is a very important issue to all Australians and one which is having a huge impact on families,” she said.
Ms Bennett said that Australia was yet to have leadership “at the highest level” in the battle against dementia, unlike the UK where Prime Minister David Cameron had developed a national strategy and personally championed the cause.
Britain had also set up “Dementia Friends” programs in local jurisdictions which enabled communities to develop their own strategies to deal with dementia.
“So (in the UK) we’ve seen the highest level of leadership and commitment right through to the resourcing and enabling of local communities to actively respond to the issue,” she said.
“It wasn’t just words, it was actions followed through with funding and followed through with outcomes and results.”