Dementia has the greatest impact on the provision of residential aged care, compared with its impact on other services such as hospitals, GPs and community aged care programs, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The impact of dementia on the health and aged care systems states that over 40% of older people living in cared accommodation (mainly residential aged care) have dementia, and for almost one-third of permanent aged care residents, dementia is the long-term health condition causing the most problems.
Head of AIHW's Ageing and Aged Care Unit, Ann Peut, said that the length of stay by these residents is, on average, longer than stays by other residents.
'For people leaving residential aged care in 2002, those with dementia had been residents for 169 weeks, compared with 119 weeks for people without dementia,' she said.
Ms Peut said around 167,000 Australians were affected by dementia in 2002, including 105,000 aged 80 and over.
'An estimated one-fifth of people aged 85 or over are affected by dementia to such a degree that they need assistance with self-care, mobility or communication.'
GPs managed dementia at a rate of six per 1,000 adult patient encounters (0.6%) in 2001-02, with about one-quarter of these involving Alzheimer's disease.
The impact of dementia on hospital services is relatively greater than that for general practice. People whose dementia contributed to the cost of their hospital stay accounted for 70,700, or 2.3% of hospital admissions (excluding same-day admissions) in 2000-01.
Because of the high prevalence of dementia in residential aged care homes, a large share - 84% or $2.1 billion - of health and aged care system expenditures attributed to dementia were spent in residential aged care. This included $1.8 billion in government funding and $360 million in user payments.
Overall, dementia cost Australia's health and aged care systems an estimated $2.5 billion in direct expenditures in 2000-01.
The cost of dementia to the community can also be measured in terms of the disease burden it causes for sufferers, and it is the greatest single contributor to burden of disease due to disability at older ages.
In 1996, dementia accounted for 10% of years of healthy life lost due to disability by men aged 55 and over, and 17% of years of healthy life lost due to disability by women of the same age group.
'Unless there are significant breakthroughs in treatment and/or prevention, dementia will continue to have a major impact on the provision of services, especially residential aged care,' Ms Peut said.
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