Dementia was responsible for the loss of almost 230,000 years of healthy life among Australians aged 65 and over in 2022 – an astonishing 62 per cent increase since 2011.
That’s the conclusion of a new Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report released today.
It says dementia has taken over from heart disease as the leading cause of disease burden among older Australians.
And it remains the second leading cause of death.
The loss of healthy life through illness, injury or premature death is called the ‘burden of disease’.
Dementia was the leading cause of death for women and the second leading cause of death – after heart disease – for men.
AIHW spokesperson Melanie Dunford explains: “Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that gradually impair brain function that may impact memory, speech, cognition, personality, behaviour.”
It is an increasing cause of disease burden in Australia, largely due to an ageing population but also due to declines in burden from other leading causes, such as coronary heart disease.
“Dementia was responsible for 4.4 per cent of Australia’s disease burden in 2022, which includes both the impact of living with the condition [the non-fatal burden of disease] and dying prematurely [fatal burden], and was the second leading cause of death in Australia in 2020, accounting for 9.6 per cent of all deaths,” Ms Dunford says.
AIHW estimates there are about 401,300 people living with dementia in Australia, and nearly two-thirds of that number are women.
The institute predicts that number will more than double to 849,300 by 2058.
“While the deterioration of memory, language and cognition are hallmarks of dementia, the majority of people with dementia will also experience at least one type of BPSD [behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia] as their dementia progresses,” Ms Dunford said.
BPSD refers to a range of common symptoms, including aggression, insomnia, delusions, apathy and anxiety.
“BPSD can have a significant impact on people with dementia, carers and family, and has been associated with early admission to residential care, increased hospitalisation, distress for carers and reduced functional ability for the person with dementia.”
Among those referred to BPSD support services delivered by Dementia Support Australia between July 2021 and June 2022, agitation was the most recorded primary behaviour, accounting for almost 35 per cent of referrals. This was followed by physical aggression (25 per cent), verbal aggression (11 per cent) and anxiety (6.4 per cent).
What you can do
The report claims about 43 per cent of the overall dementia burden from 2018 could have been avoided if exposure to six lifestyle risk factors was reduced. They are: being overweight, physical inactivity, smoking, high blood pressure, high glucose levels and impaired kidney function.
However, several risk factors, such as age, genetics and family history, could not be changed.
It also found the disease burden was influenced by several other socioeconomic factors, such as income, education, employment and access to social support services.
AIHW is an independent government agency that uses data to support policy and decision making for health and welfare.
The report used data from a range of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia, an issue recently in the news due to movie star Bruce Willis’s diagnosis.
Would you change your lifestyle to avoid dementia? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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