Dementia is Australia’s Second Largest Killer

Dementia.  What do you know about it? It’s a disease that is the second biggest killer of Australians (ABS 2015).

I probably would still be unaware if my Ma hadn’t showed signs of developing dementia (still no diagnosis). I’m now learning more about dementia than I probably ever wanted to, but in my learning I’ve discovered that people have a lot of preconceived ideas of what dementia is.  People see dementia as being about memory loss and strange behaviour.

I am currently undertaking a free introduction to dementia course through the University of Tasmania’s Massive Open Online Course.  It’s been a real eye opener.

Early in the course I learnt:

  • Dementia is a set of symptoms caused by a range of conditions which is a result of progressive brain destruction caused by one of a number of conditions.
  • There are over 100 different diseases which can cause dementia (eg. Parkinson’s disease, Vascular disease).
  • Dementia is NOT a normal part of ageing although the older we get the greater the risk we have of developing a dementia.
  • Dementia is a progressive and incurable condition.
  • There are medications that may modify some symptoms but they only work for less than half of all sufferers and they are only temporary.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are now Australia’s second leading cause of death.  Dementia is now more deadly than strokes and all types of cancer.  Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in Australia.

Deaths associated with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are up by 30% in the last five years and rising.  If more money isn’t spent on caring for an ageing population, some researchers predict there’ll be a need for 500 new dementia beds a month for the next 40 years (http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4208461.htm).

Professor Perminder Sachdev, co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at University of New South Wales, believes there hasn’t been enough investment in Dementia research which has lagged behind other diseases considerably.  In 2012, it was found that Dementia was probably getting about one seventh of the funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council as cancer was.

So why aren’t we doing more to raise awareness and raising funds to help research Australia’s second largest killer?  How many posts do we see on social media in relation to cancer compared to dementia?  In my experience people are more ready to announce that Joe Bloggs has cancer than to admit they have dementia.

There seems to be a stigma attached to dementia almost like it’s something to be ashamed of. There is a need to raise awareness in the community and to support the carer caring for someone with dementia. I’m only a little voice in the wilderness but if others start raising awareness maybe money for research and care will increase and carers will be less isolated.

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