Call for more focus on dementia fight

The type of advances in treatment and prevention that have led to falling deaths from heart disease are needed to fight dementia amid expectations it will soon become Australia’s biggest killer, a support group says.


Heart disease remains the leading cause of Australian deaths but dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, has for the first time become the top killer for women.

It is likely in time dementia will also become the top cause of death for men as treatments for other leading causes such as heart disease improve and they live longer, the Australian Bureau of Statistics says.

Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Maree McCabe says advances in the treatment of heart disease and risk reduction strategies have obviously worked well.

“I think that’s a real positive and we need to do the same with dementia,” she told AAP.

She said without a significant medical breakthrough, the number of Australians living with dementia is expected to rise from 413,000 currently to 1.1 million by 2056.

“As a nation we need to do more to reduce people’s risk of dementia so that the onset of dementia in individuals is avoided or delayed, resulting in fewer people in the community having dementia,” Ms McCabe said.

“While it is heartening to see that less Australian women are dying from heart disease due to better treatment options and support, there is still no cure for dementia and people with dementia still struggle to find appropriate support and services.”

ABS data showed dementia was the underlying cause of death for one in 12 of the 158,504 Australian deaths in 2016.

Those who died from dementia were more likely to be over 85 and female, the ABS said.

The annual statistics also revealed drug-induced deaths have reached their highest level since the height of the 1990s heroin epidemic, although the per capita rate remains below the 1999 peak.

A recent National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre report found the majority of opiod-related deaths involve prescription opiods including strong painkillers such as oxycodone, rather than heroin, and occur among Australians aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Penington Institute acting CEO David Grant said the increasing number of drug-related deaths shows Australia’s approach to drugs isn’t working.

“We now have a situation where the number of drug-related deaths is higher than during the 1990s heroin crisis,” Mr Grant said.

“The difference is that now the hundreds of avoidable deaths are attributed to a much wider range of pharmaceutical and illicit drugs.”