Why we need to talk about dementia

Dementia is a complex health problem, both because of the sheer number of underlying conditions that can cause it (more than 50) and because of its direct and indirect impact on people and the health system.

We currently have no cure for any form of dementia. With an ageing population, people are living longer and the social and economic costs continue to rise. More than 400,000 Australians are currently living with dementia; 244 people are newly diagnosed every day (and increasing); and the number of cases is expected to nearly triple by 2056. 

Those numbers belie a more important cost: the personal toll that dementia takes on individuals and families. This heartbreaking condition robs people of their partners. It robs children of their parents. It robs grandchildren of their grandparents.  

People with dementia are more likely to be hospitalised, and once there, are twice as likely to develop complications, such as infections. Hundreds of thousands of carers are needed to assist dementia patients with basic daily activities, and almost half of these are partners, relatives or friends. Concerningly, 65% of informal carers are over the age of 65, and 46% have a disability themselves. 

For the two in five people with dementia who live in regional or remote areas, the situation is even more difficult. With medical centres far away, these Australians share more of the burden of care, have greater distances to travel for medical assistance, and have limited options for treatment. 

The growing economic burden of dementia

The cost of dementia to the health system and the economy is significant. In 2017, direct costs (mainly medical and aged care) and indirect costs (lost income and productivity) of dementia are set to be over $14 billion. Without effective treatments for dementia, those costs are predicted to skyrocket to almost $37 billion by 2056. 

The Australian Government has recognised the urgency of the issue, and has directed resources towards ageing and dementia research. This includes the creation of the NHMRC National Institute for Dementia Research, part of a $200 million commitment to the World Dementia Council’s priority of achieving a five-year delay in dementia onset by 2025. It's hoped this commitment spans beyond its expiration in 2018.