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Australia Warns: Dementia is an emerging epidemic

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Almost a million Australians will have dementia by 2050 unless there are significant medical breakthroughs, a conference in Brisbane has been told.

Dementia, along with diabetes, is an emerging epidemic in Australia, the federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, told the 14th annual conference of Alzheimer’s Australia.

About 270,000 Australians currently live with dementia and another 1500 are diagnosed weekly.

However most Australians’ understanding of the condition doesn’t extend much beyond Ruth Cracknell’s comedy role in the ABC’s Mother and Son, Mr Butler said.

“We need to reinforce that dementia is an incredibly serious health condition,” Mr Butler said.

The conference was given added tension after Alzheimer’s Australia president Ita Buttrose criticised the federal government for ignoring dementia.

Ms Buttrose said the recent federal health and aged-care reforms unveiled in the budget did not address any of Alzheimer’s Australia’s main concerns.

“Alzheimer’s Australia put forward proposals for a comprehensive plan which have not been considered or taken up by the government in any of the review processes over the past two years,” Ms Buttrose said.

Mr Butler admitted the problem and said he is concerned at the lack of funding for dementia compared with spending on cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions.

Last week he had announced a strategic review of medical research and he hoped that would lead to a re-ordering of funding priorities.

He said the newly-established Preventative Health Agency should have the response to dementia central to its work.

Aged care reform is central to the government’s agenda, Mr Butler said.

“Aged care nowadays is largely about dementia care,” he said.

“An aged care reform response that doesn’t have at its heart a dementia response will not be an aged care response at all,” the minister said to loud applause.

Earlier, Governor-General Quentin Bryce had described dementia as “a creeping thing” without a starting point.

Ms Bryce said there is a need to break down the stigma of Alzheimer’s.

“We must talk about difference and disability with openness, honesty, integrity,” she said.

Ms Bryce particularly recommended Alzheimer’s Australia’s dementia risk reduction program Mind your Mind.


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