What is dementia? Types of dementia. Dementia is now the ninth National Health Priority Area.

Page last updated: 31 July 2013

What is dementia?

Dementia is not a single specific disease. It is an umbrella term describing a syndrome associated with more than 100 different diseases that are characterised by the impairment of brain functions, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills. Although the type and severity of symptoms and their pattern of development varies with the type of dementia, it is usually of gradual onset, progressive in nature and irreversible.

In 2011, there was an estimated 298,000 people living with dementia in Australia. Among Australians aged 65 and over, almost 1 in 10 (9%) had dementia. And among those aged 85 and over, 3 in 10 (30%) had dementia. As Australia's population ages, more people will be affected by dementia.

With the projected rise of Australia's aged population, it is estimated the number of people living with dementia is projected to triple to around 900,000 by 2050. Dementia is one of the major reasons why older people enter residential aged care or seek assistance from community care programs.

Dementia can also occur in younger people. The term Younger Onset Dementia refers to people aged under 65 who are living with dementia. In 2011 there was an estimated 23,900 Australians living with younger on set dementia.

Dementia was the third leading cause of death in 2010, with 9,003 deaths recorded across Australia. For people aged 65 and over, dementia was the second leading cause of burden of disease and the leading cause of disability burden.

Types of Dementia

Information on the different types of dementia

There are over 100 illnesses and conditions that can cause dementia. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's disease.

Other types of dementia include:
  • Vascular Dementia - the second most common type of dementia. It is associated with problems in the flow of blood to the brain;
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies;
  • Korsakoff’s Syndrome (Alcohol related dementia);
  • Dementia with Parkinson’s Disease; and
  • Huntington’s Disease.
Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, although it is more common in older people and affects about one in four people over the age of 85. Although it is commonly assumed that dementia is a condition that only affects “older” people, younger people can develop dementia as well. The term Younger Onset Dementia is used to describe dementia occurring in people aged under 65 years.

National Framework for Action on Dementia 2013-2017

The National Framework for Action on Dementia 2013-2017 (the new Framework) is currently being developed by the Dementia Working Group.

Public consultation sessions to inform the development of the new Framework were conducted in each capital city and in Cairns and Lismore from 24 April 2013 to 17 May 2013.

Dementia the ninth National Health Priority Area

On 10 August 2012, the Australian Health Ministers recognised dementia as the ninth National Health Priority Area.

Flexible Fund

For further information on the fund, visit the Department of Health and Ageing website.

Dementia and Veterans' Supplements

On 1 August 2013, as part of the Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package, the Government introduced:
  • The Dementia and Cognition Supplement in Home Care Packages
  • The Dementia and Severe Behaviours Supplement in Residential Aged Care
  • The Veterans' Supplement in Home Care Packages and
  • The Veterans' Supplement in Residential Aged Care.
These supplements provide additional funding for the increasing numbers of older Australians with dementia and other conditions and veterans with service related mental health conditions.

For further information, visit the living longer living better website.

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For more information and assistance


National Dementia Helpline – 1800 100 500*
For My Aged Care - 1800 200 422*
Centrelink - 13 27 17*
*Free local call. Calls from mobile and pay phones may incur extra charges.


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