What is dementia?

Dementia is not a single disease, but an umbrella term describing a collection of symptoms from a range of conditions that cause parts of the brain to deteriorate progressively. Dementia affects functions such as memory, perception, behaviour, language, and personality.

There are more than 50 conditions known to cause the symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, accounting for about 60-70% of cases. Other common types are vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies. Huntington’s disease, and prion diseases like mad cow, as well as stroke, head injuries and disorders of excessive alcohol consumption can also cause dementia. 

The story is further complicated by the fact that about a third of people with dementia have more than one underlying cause. As age increases, having combined forms or ‘mixed dementia’ becomes more common.

Ageing dementia is one of the country’s most pressing health problems. Alzheimer’s affects more than two-thirds of dementia patients, and approximately a quarter of a million Australians. The total number of dementia cases in Australia is expected to rise to 1 million by 2050. It presents significant challenges to the health care system, which makes directed research programs aimed at preventing and treating ageing dementia all the more urgent. 

There is currently no cure for any form of dementia.

Who gets dementia?

Dementia affects around 10 per cent of people over the age of 65 and 35 per cent of people aged over 85, and is of growing concern as the world’s population ages.

  • Each day 244+ are diagnosed with dementia
  • Australians with dementia:
    2017: 413,000
    2036: 760,000 (if no effective treatment is found)
    2056: 1.1 million (if no effective treatment is found)
  • 44% male
    56% female
  • 26,000 Australians under 65 have younger onset dementia (2017)
  • 2/5 people with dementia live in regional or remote areas.
  • Indigenous Australians are 3-5 times more likely to develop dementia than non-indigenous people
  • 1/5 people with dementia is from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Dementia affects:
    1/10 Australians over 65
    3/10 Australians over 85
  • Cost of dementia to the economy

    Direct (mainly medical and aged-care): $9.1 billion
    Indirect (lost income and productivity): $5.6 billion
    2056 (estimated)
    Direct: $24.1 billion
    Indirect: ($12.8 billion
  • Over the next 40 years, dementia expected to cost $1 trillion
  • Carers:
    291,000+ carers
    33% in aged-care settings; 67% in the community
    74% female
    65% older than 65
    46% also have a disability