Investment in dementia risk reduction a must

Saturday 18 April 2015

The Federal and State Governments, business and the community can all help curb the soaring numbers of people expected to be diagnosed with dementia over the next decade, but not without new and significant investment.

A paper, released today at the Alzheimer’s Disease International and Alzheimer’s Australia Conference in Perth, has estimated that a 20 per cent reduction in cases of Alzheimer’s disease could save can as much as $570 million by 2020 and up to $8.3 billion by 2050 and has called for a continuation of funding and increased investment in the Your Brain Matters risk reduction program.

“Dementia is now the second leading cause of death in Australia ,” Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett said.
“There is already an estimated 332,000  people living with dementia, which, without any major medical breakthroughs, is expected to increase to almost 900,000 by 2050. This will be a significant cost to the health and aged care system. 

“We estimate that the direct and indirect costs of dementia could be as high as $73 billion by 2050. It is vital that Governments do something to reduce this future financial, not to mention social and emotional, impact on Australian society.”

According to research published last year, approximately a third of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide are potentially attributable to seven key risk factors.

“The biggest contributor of these by far is physical inactivity, followed by high blood pressure in mid-life,” Carol Bennett said.

“Disturbingly, a recent paper released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that more than half the Australian population is inactive. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, depression, diabetes and cognitive inactivity or low educational attainment.

“If Governments invested in addressing at least some of these risk factors across the population, we can reduce the numbers of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, making substantial savings to the community.

“As the McKinsey Global Institute found in its analysis of more than 70 programs around the world designed to reduce obesity, the cost savings and higher productivity outweigh the financial investment.”

Dementia Australia’s risk reduction program Your Brain Matters is the world’s first publicly funded dementia risk reduction program.

“The Your Brain Matters program has already proven to have some success in changing public perceptions of dementia risk reduction and in program participants’ intent to change behaviour to lead a healthier life, despite the modest amount of funding we were given to roll out the program,” Carol Bennett said. 

“However, we have not been given a commitment from the Government that this funding will be continued beyond June 2015, nor increased, which we need if we are to roll it out to a much greater percentage of the Australia population in order to have a bigger impact.

“The Australian Government was a world leader in funding this program and we would ask for them to continue to show good leadership and good sense by continuing to support the program.

“We know that not all cases of dementia can be prevented through risk reduction, but reducing those that we can will be enormously beneficial.”

The discussion paper, Reducing the Prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease: Modifiable Risk Factors or Social Determinants of Health, makes several recommendations, including that the:
•    Australian Government continues to invest in the Your Brain Matters dementia risk reduction program;
•    Australian Government identifies opportunities to incorporate brain health messaging in other preventative health campaigns around smoking, obesity and diabetes;
•    Australian and State Governments assess Closing the Gap health policies to ensure they also address the need to reduce dementia risk;
•    Australian and State Governments implement incentives for healthier dietary choices including taxes on foods known to increase the dementia burden, and
•    Australian Government prioritise research funding through the NHMRC into how to encourage the population to embrace dementia reduction behaviour, in particular for populations of social and health disadvantage.