House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Delegation Reports

Health and Ageing Committee; Report and Reference to Federation Chamber

11:00 am

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

On behalf of the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, I present the committee's report entitled Thinking ahead: Report on the inquiry into dementia: early diagnosis and intervention, together with the minutes of the proceedings. The inquiry was referred to the committee by the Minister for Ageing on 20 March 2012. The prevalence of dementia in Australia is predicted to triple in less than 40 years. That means that by 2050 there will be more than 900,000 Australians living with dementia. The challenge for Australia is how to develop a robust system of services to meet the ongoing needs of people living with dementia as well as the needs of families and carers.

In its inquiry, the committee considered the far-reaching benefits of early diagnosis and intervention on dementia. Early diagnosis allows people to access appropriate treatments at the earlier opportunity. It allows them to make informed choices about their current and future needs. It also allows them to make important decisions about legal and financial affairs. Despite these obvious benefits, the committee heard that about two-thirds of people living with dementia do not receive a diagnosis. People who are diagnosed wait an average of three years from the first symptoms to diagnosis.

One of the major barriers achieving early diagnosis is the lack of awareness. Myths about dementia remain widespread. Many people believe that dementia is an inevitable part of ageing and that nothing can be done about it. Others are too afraid to seek an assessment. They would simply rather not know. Improving our understanding of dementia is the key to banishing these myths and tackling stigma. Ideally, people should seek professional assessment as soon as they have concerns. To address stigma and encourage people to seek early diagnosis, the committee has called for a comprehensive national awareness campaign on dementia.

As I mentioned, a benefit of early diagnosis is early intervention, but the committee heard how people still face challenges after diagnosis is made. They do not know what services they can access and how to go about it. In short, there is a lack of coordination and no clear service pathway for people post-diagnosis. To address this, the committee recommends that a case manager or dementia linked worked help connect people to appropriate services and support. Medicare Locals could be used to coordinate local care pathways and facilitate a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis, treatment and support.

Looking to the future, the ultimate goal in Australia and around the world would be to achieve a cure for dementia. Clearly we are not there yet but there are things that people can do now that exports say may reduce the risk of developing dementia or delay its onset,. A healthy lifestyle is crucial, including a good diet, plenty of exercise and continued social activity and engagement. However, more research is needed. The committee encourages ongoing support for dementia research and calls for an increased effort to determine the influence of psychosocial interventions on brain health.

The committee heard that there is a call to create dementia friendly communities in Australia. These communities would support a holistic approach to dementia care. This involves educating all sectors of the community, not just health and care sectors, to understand and accommodate the needs of people with dementia and their carers.

Dementia-friendly communities would need support from our shops, banks, transport services, police and emergency services, as well as from town planners—and that is just to name a few. The community supports moves towards a dementia-friendly society. Before finishing, it would be very remiss of me not to mention the Living Longer, Living Better aged-care reform package of $3.7 billion over five years. This includes a significant investment in initiatives to tackle dementia. I am confident that many of the issues raised with the committee will be addressed through this package of reforms as they are implemented over the next few years.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to offer my thanks to all those who contributed to the inquiry. In particular, I acknowledge the contribution of the people with dementia and their carers who generously shared their stories with us. I would also like to thank my committee colleagues, particularly the previous chair, Steve Georganas, and the deputy chair, Steve Irons, for their participation in and commitment to this inquiry. In addition to that, I thank the wonderful secretariat for all the work they have put into putting together such a great report as I have tabled here today.


No comments