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Dementia has overtaken coronary heart disease as the leading cause of disease burden among Australians aged 65 and over, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Latest data shows that dementia was responsible for almost 230,000 years of healthy life lost among Australians aged 65 and over in 2022, a 61% increase since 2011.

An umbrella term for a group of conditions that gradually impair brain function, dementia can impact memory, speech, cognition (thought), personality, and behaviour.

With dementia taking over as the biggest health issue for older Australians, peak body Dementia Australia has renewed calls for an interconnected, dementia-informed healthcare system to ensure everyone impacted by the disease receives appropriate support and care.

More than 400,000 Australians live with dementia and the number is expected to increase to more than 800,000 by 2058, dementia.

“It’s imperative that we have an informed system where staff working across healthcare industries have education in dementia and that all health and aged care workers and Australians know to contact Dementia Australia for support and information,” Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said.

“Accessing Dementia Australia’s services is key to establishing this support network for people impacted by dementia. With dementia having so many touchpoints across the healthcare system, we must ensure the different parts of the system talk to each other.”

According to Dementia Australia, an integrated healthcare system that supports people living with dementia, their families and carers would include:

  • A more consistent experience of diagnosis
  • Access to post-diagnostic support services
  • Access to supports across the trajectory of the disease that focus on maintaining dignity and autonomy of the person impacted as well as family and carers
  • Access to palliative care services that meet the needs of people with dementia

The AIHW report shows dementia was responsible for 4.4% of Australia’s disease burden in 2022, which includes both the impact of living with the condition and dying prematurely.

Without a major medical breakthrough, Ms McCabe says the trend is likely to continue, as more and more people live with dementia.

“While there is nothing definitive you can do to prevent dementia, there are many things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing dementia,” she said.

“These include looking after your brain health, body health and heart health and it’s never too early or too late to start. While we cannot change getting older, genetics or family history, scientific research suggests that changing certain health and lifestyle habits may make a big difference to reducing or delaying your risk of developing dementia.”

For information or support contact the National Dementia hotline on 1800 100 500.