National Women's Health Policy

Dementia

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Dementia is the leading single cause of disability in older Australians (aged 65 years or older) 319 and is more prevalent in older woman than men.320 Dementia causes high rates of profound disability and is responsible for one year in every six years of disability burden for this group. 321 322 Over the past 10 years the mortality rate for dementia has increased significantly for women.323

Dementia is the term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses which affect a person’s ability to remember, to think, and to learn. While the risk of dementia increases with age, dementia is not a natural part of ageing.324 There are more than 100 conditions that cause dementia.325

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, accounts for between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of all cases; the second most common form is vascular dementia, which may be preventable. 326

According to Access Economics, it is estimated that 245,400 people in Australia currently have dementia. 327 As Australia’s population grows and ages, more people are likely to be affected by dementia, with the number of cases of dementia expected to increase to almost 465,000 by 2031.328

Almost two-thirds of older people with dementia (65 per cent) were female because women live longer, and the age-specific rates on which the estimates are based are higher for women in the older age groups.329

Dementia affects the lives of nearly one million Australians who are involved in caring for a family member or friend with dementia.330 The majority of those with moderate to severe dementia (91 per cent) require full-time care and live in care accommodation.

Carers of people with dementia are mostly older women; however, a significant proportion of care is also provided by men. Around three-quarters of carers are married or in de facto relationships and are more likely to live in the same household with the recipient with dementia.331 Amongst carers of people with dementia, psychological morbidity and social isolation are particularly high.332 There are distinctly different dementia care needs amongst specific groups. For example, the proportion of the population who are over 80 years and from a culturally and linguistically diverse background is growing in Australia. This group is faced with additional communication difficulties with the development of dementia, as the onset of dementia generally leads to the loss of the most recently acquired language occurring first.333

The prevalence of dementia among remote Aboriginal communities is significantly higher than in the non-Aboriginal population. This is likely to be due to lower levels of education, higher prevalence of traumatic brain injury and drug and alcohol morbidity, high levels of social trauma, and a greater chance of chronic disease.334

Provision of dementia care is difficult for those living in rural and remote areas due to their geographical isolation, a shortage of health care providers and lower access to health services, as well as socioeconomic disadvantage. The tendency for the children of rural and remote people moving to cities also means care from family members is not as available. 335 Whilst lesbian and bisexual women face similar issues as heterosexuals living with or caring for someone with dementia, there is a need to better recognise and address the challenges and discrimination these women may face when accessing health and residential services, including carer support.336