Australians living longer but dementia and Alzheimer’s on the rise

New analysis of Australia’s disease burden has revealed that Australians are enjoying longer lives, with life expectancy at birth increasing by almost six years over the past three decades. According to the data published in The Lancet Public Health, life expectancy in Australia was 77 years in 1990 and had risen to 82.9 years by 2019.

However, amidst these positive health outcomes, the study also shed light on concerning trends. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is on the rise, reflecting the challenges posed by an ageing population.

Associate Professor Shariful Islam from Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) commented on the findings, stating that while Australia fared better than many other countries in terms of diabetes and stroke, it lags behind in areas such as anxiety, depressive disorders, and diseases prevalent among older age groups. Notably, the study also revealed that risk factors, chronic diseases, and injuries remain significant contributors to the overall disease burden.

“Australia ranks better for diabetes and stroke than many of the countries in our study, but several diseases, including chronic diseases and diseases in older age groups, as well as risk factors and injuries are worse,

For example, Australia ranks poorly for anxiety and depressive disorders as well as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and falls among the elderly,” Associate Professor Islam added.

Despite Australia’s robust healthcare system, the analysis highlighted the need to enhance primary prevention and health promotion strategies to address the country’s health challenges effectively.

The study, conducted using standardised metrics by the Global Burden of Disease, comprehensively assessed premature death, morbidity, disability, and various risk factors affecting the Australian population. By analyzing 286 causes of death, 369 diseases and injuries, and 87 behavioural, metabolic, environmental, and occupational risks, it offers valuable evidence to guide population health policies and healthcare priorities.

As life expectancy continues to rise, the study emphasised the importance of tackling health issues associated with ageing, such as musculoskeletal disorders, low back pain, and depressive disorders. Additionally, it highlights the leading causes of death in Australia, including ischaemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, while also drawing attention to emerging health concerns like poor mental health, drug use disorders, self-harm, and interpersonal violence.

The researchers concluded that preventive and remedial health policies are vital to address these health challenges, safeguard the well-being of the population, and ensure the sustainability of Australia’s healthcare system.


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