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How Dementia is Affecting Australians

September 22, 2021

What is Dementia?

Dementia is caused by damage or or changes in the brain and symptoms will vary from person to person.Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia patients often suffer from a decline in cognitive abilities and social skills which can cause significant interference with daily functioning.

Dementia in Australia continues to be the 2nd leading cause of death after heart disease, accounting for nearly 10% of all deaths. Its set to become a larger burden on the healthcare system in the future as our population ages, with forecasts predicting about 850,000 people with dem in 2058, twice as many as now.

Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease - Progressive disease in which brain cells deteriorate at a more rapid pace than normal. It primarily affects the parts of the brain that control a person’s cognition, memory, and speech. Because of these effects, people with Alzheimer’s steadily lose the ability to hold conversations and respond accordingly to their environment. The primary cause of this Alzheimer’s disease still isn’t established by medical researchers. Although, genetic predisposition is widely accepted as a link.

Vascular Dementia - Restricted blood flow into and within the brain causes vascular dementia which, in turn, causes brain cells to die earlier than their natural lifespan. Naturally, people who suffer from the blockage or rupture of blood vessels have a higher risk of getting this type of Dementia. As a result, people with vascular dementia suffer from confusion and struggle with decision-making. As the disease progresses, the symptoms begin to look more like Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies - An abnormal appearance of spherical protein buildup within nerve cells causes brain cells to prematurely degenerate and ultimately die quicker. Hallucinations, dream-enacting behaviour, and in the later stages, a significant decline in motor skills and tremors and rigidity similar to Parkinson’s.

Frontotemporal Dementia - As the name suggests, this type of dementia affects the front and sides of the brain. These parts are in charge of behaviour and speech. While this is the least common among all 4 types, frontotemporal Dementia is the most common type found in rare cases of early-onset dementia.

Risk Factors

Factors that might play a part in developing dementia come in two categories - modifiable and non-modifiable. The former are avoidable or reducible potential causes that people can still change as they age. 

Modifiable Factors

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • High-cholesterol

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Mental stimulation

  • Social isolation

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Air pollution

  • Atrial fibrillation— irregular heartbeat

  • High homocysteine levels—an amino acid due to protein breakdown

Non-Modifiable Factors

  • Ageing

  • Genetic predisposition

  • Genetic mutations

How to Reduce Risk of Developing Dementia

Although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence shows there are things you can do to reduce your own risk. 

Adjusting to a healthier and balanced lifestyle is the most effective way of reducing dementia. This means regular exercise, reduction of alcohol and tobacco consumption, a balanced diet, exercising your mind and staying social.

It’s important to see your local GP if you’re concerned about Dementia or if other health problems such as depression, anxeity, hearing loss or trouble sleeping, which may also be risk factors for dementia.

Latest Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

  • Dementia was the 2nd leading cause of death in Australia in 2019, accounting for nearly 10% off all deaths.
  • 1 in 12 Australians aged 65 and over has dementia.
  • Based on the AIHW estimates, the number of Australians with dementia is predicted to more than double by 2058, from 386,200 people in 2021 to 849,300 in 2058.
  • Overall, dementia is the 3rd leading cause of disease burden in Australia and the number 1 disease burden for Australians aged 75 and over.

Read AIHW's Dementia in Australia Summary Report in full.

Speak to your Doctor

GPs often have a long-term relationship with patients, including those with serious chronic disease and life-limiting illness such as dementia. Don't hestitate to speak to your GP about any concerns you have about your memory, so they can be addressed and appropriate follow up arranged if required.