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New insight into dementia in Australia reveals need for better care

08 February, 2007

As the Australian population grows and ages, the number of people with dementia is expected to rise, increasing the requirement for appropriate care services and placing significant demands on the amount of time and help provided by carers, says a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Dementia in Australia: national data analysis and development, shows the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to almost 465,000 by 2031.

Ann Peut, Head of the AIHW's Ageing and Aged Care Unit said, 'It is not possible to provide an accurate estimate of the number of people with dementia and we still need to use overseas studies to help derive this. Based on the studies used for this report, there were 37,000 new cases of dementia in 2003, making a total of 175,000 people with dementia in Australia in that year.

'Around 75,000 people with dementia were living in cared accommodation in 2003. Of those living in residential aged care, 61% were in the two highest care categories.

'People with dementia use a substantial amount of health and aged care services - for example in 2003 they used 1.4 million hospital patient days and 24.7 million residential aged care bed-days. They also require a significant amount of time and help from their carers and many carers experience distress associated with the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia,' Peut said.

The report also takes a new approach to estimating expenditure and outlines ways in which data sources can be developed to help improve our knowledge and understanding of dementia.

AIHW economist, John Goss said, 'This new approach to estimating expenditure allows us to take account of other health conditions a person with dementia may have, resulting in estimates that can be specifically attributed to the dementia condition.

'Calculated this way, total health and welfare expenditure for dementia in 2003 is estimated at $1.4 billion, with the majority in the residential aged care sector where $993 million is attributed to dementia.'

Although existing national data collections include a wide array of relevant information, data about dementia is still patchy and of variable quality', said Peut.

'This is mainly because of difficulties in collecting statistical information about people with mild or moderate dementia, variable collection methodologies and inconsistencies between collections. There is also limited national data about carers of people with dementia.

'We have worked closely with an expert Reference Group to put forward a menu of data elements which could be drawn on to improve the collection of dementia data,' she said.

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