Dementia surpasses heart disease as the leading disease impacting ageing Australians

Dementia has surpassed coronary heart disease to become the leading cause of disease burden among Australians aged 65 and over, according to the latest update to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) compendium report, Dementia in Australia. The report reveals that dementia caused nearly 230,000 years of healthy life loss among people aged 65 and over in 2022, a 61% increase since 2011.

The increase in dementia cases is primarily attributed to Australia’s ageing population, but it is also due to a decline in burden from other leading causes such as coronary heart disease, said AIHW spokesperson Melanie Dunford. In 2022, dementia was responsible for 4.4% of Australia’s disease burden, which includes the both non-fatal and fatal burden of disease, and was the second leading cause of death in the country in 2020, accounting for 9.6% of all deaths.

As of 2022, there were an estimated 401,300 Australians living with dementia, an increase of 4% from the previous year. This number is expected to more than double to 849,300 by 2058.

Today’s report includes information on behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), which refers to a range of non-cognitive symptoms that are common among people living with dementia, including agitation, aggression, insomnia, and anxiety. While memory, language, and cognition deterioration are hallmarks of dementia, the majority of people with the condition will also experience at least one type of BPSD as their dementia progresses, according to Dunford.

BPSD can have a significant impact on people with dementia, their carers, and their families. It has been associated with early admission to residential care, increased hospitalization, 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% of referrals. This was followed by physical aggression (25%), verbal aggression (11%), and anxiety (6.4%).

While no current prevalence estimates for BPSD in Australia exist, this report provides information on the prevalence of select symptoms using available data. Further work is required to understand the full impact and causes of BPSD.


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