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How ‘strategic investment’ can lower dementia’s $15bn bill

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The cost of caring for someone with dementia is $88,000 a year, but a holistic approach and community education can improve patients’ quality of life and reduce the financial burden.

According to Dementia Australia, new research which emphasises the importance of improved training and dementia-friendly communities “reaffirms…[their] call for the urgent need for ongoing, systemic, aged care reform”.

The peak dementia body was referring to a Flinders University report, also released yesterday, which found that dementia costs for one person average $88,000 a year, and total more than $15 billion for all 425,000 people living with the illness in Australia.

Dementia is a collection of symptoms which impact brain function and which often accompany old age. Dementia may be in the form of Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, among others.

Flinders University researchers argued that their findings represented the first time a “comprehensive estimate of the direct costs” of care for people with dementia had been achieved.

Alzheimer’s Australia had previously estimated the cost to be $55,904 for the first year after diagnosis, followed by $23,801 a year in the years following. However, Alzheimer’s Australia’s model “only included healthcare costs that were directly attributable to dementia and residential care costs from an out of pocket cost perspective”.

“Our costing, in contrast, provides an estimate capturing costs to both government and individuals, based on individual all-cause resource use of people with dementia living long-term in residential care. In the absence of a cost estimate from a societal perspective, such a comprehensive estimate is important for planning for both providers and policy makers and quantifies the financial impact of dementia in this population,” the team of 12 researchers said.

The research also found that 54 per cent of the costs involved were pharmacological, while 38 per cent were for hospital care.

Commenting on the findings, CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe said: “This suggests that clinical interventions are more common in residential aged care rather than optioning for a more holistic approach.

“We know from our own research and internationally that person-centred care can reduce the use of antipsychotics and other drugs.

“Greater investment in training and education across the acute and aged care sectors in the management of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia will result in improved quality of life for people living with dementia and decrease the length of stay in hospitals.”

Ms McCabe called for greater awareness of dementia-friendly principles which support people to remain in their communities, and remain “meaningfully engaged”. She said greater awareness could also see people with dementia potentially living in their homes for longer.

“This research reinforces the need for more strategic investment in dementia services to avoid an escalation in costs that will be unsustainable.”

According to the World Health Organisation, dementia incidence worldwide is set to triple to more than 150 million in just over 30 years.

Commenting on the findings, the director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in December: "The suffering that results is enormous. This is an alarm call: we must pay greater attention to this growing challenge and ensure that all people living with dementia, wherever they live, get the care that they need."

 

How ‘strategic investment’ can lower dementia’s $15bn bill
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