Dementia has profound consequences for the health and quality of life for those with the condition and their family and friends. It is one of the leading contributors to burden of disease and disability and presents a significant challenge to Australia’s health and care systems. While dementia is not a natural or inevitable part of ageing, it does primarily affect older people.

Because of the degenerative nature of the condition, an individual’s need for assistance generally increases as the disease progresses. Although the type and severity of symptoms and their pattern of development varies with the type of dementia, the disease usually has a gradual onset, and is progressive and irreversible. In the early stages of the condition, close family and friends may notice symptoms such as memory loss and difficulties with finding familiar words. In the mid-stages, difficulties may be experienced with familiar tasks, such as shopping, driving or handling money. In the latter stages, difficulties extend to basic or core activities of daily living, such as self-care activities, including eating, bathing and dressing. People with dementia eventually become dependent on their carers in most, if not all, areas of daily living.

The number of people with dementia is expected to increase over time, reflecting Australia’s ageing population. The number of cases has increased by 40% over the past decade—from an estimated 252,000 in 2006 to 354,000 in 2016—and it is estimated that the number of dementia cases may increase to around 900,000 by 2050.

The AIHW continues to work towards improving the quality and availability of national data on dementia.