If dementia was a country, it would be the 18th largest in the world.
It's a staggering statistic to comprehend given that in simple terms, many simply associate dementia with memory loss in older people. In reality, it is much more than that – it is not a natural part of growing old.
According to the federal government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it is estimated that the number of people with dementia will increase to about 900,000 cases by 2050. The 2015 statistics show that one-in-10 Australians over the age of 65 suffer from dementia, with three-in-10 Australians over the age of 85 falling victim to this disease. In 2013, dementia was the second leading cause of death in Australia, with twice as many women as men dying from the disease.
It is sobering thought, especially given Tasmania’s ageing population. Alzheimer’s Australia predicts that by 2025, the total cost of dementia will increase to $18.7 billion, and to $36.8 billion by 2056.
What is encouraging is the amount of work, research and conversations around the disease that is happening in Tasmania.
The University of Tasmania’s Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre recently received about $2.6 million, as part of the latest National Health and Medical Research Council grants, to continue its study into a medical breakthrough. The university also offers free online courses to understand dementia, which since 2013 has had more than 90,000 people from more than 170 countries enrol.
Tasmania is also set to become home to Australia’s first village designed for people with dementia, which will be housed at Glenorchy in the state’s south. Based on international models, the project is a partnership between Glenview Community Services and superannuation provider HESTA, and will care for 90 residents.
It is welcomed, progressive news with many aged-care facilities unable to provide around-the-clock support for those with the disease.
In the North, Senior Helpers Launceston is assisting families who have a loved one affected by the disease, while also providing a virtual dementia experience so that people can better understand the disorder.
Dementia is an insidious disease, often rendering the most intelligent of people to shadows of their former selves. Innovation, research and support are a must if we are to combat this disease.