Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Questions without Notice

Health and Ageing: Dementia

2:32 pm

Photo of Santo SantoroSanto Santoro (Queensland, Liberal Party, Minister for Ageing) Share this | Hansard source

I thank Senator Payne for her question. Can I also thank her for her exemplary co-chairmanship of the Parliamentary Friends of Dementia group here in the parliament and also recognise the efforts of her co-chair, Sharon Grierson MP, from the Labor side of this parliament. They both do a wonderful job in coordinating the efforts of members of parliament and senators when it comes to raising awareness of issues relating to dementia. So I again say thank you to Senator Payne and Sharon Grierson for the great work that they do as co-chairs of that parliamentary group. On Friday I had the pleasure of launching National Dementia Awareness Month in Sydney. Many senators of course will know people, often within their own families, who either suffer from dementia or care for people with dementia. These carers are Australia’s true national heroes.

Mr President, you may be aware that dementia is not a specific disease itself; rather, it is an umbrella term for a series of conditions that degrade a person’s ability to think and also to learn. Currently, an estimated 200,000 Australians are afflicted by some form of dementia. With the ageing of the population, the number of Australians living with dementia is estimated to reach 265,000 by 2020 and around 500,000 by 2050. This debilitating condition is soon expected to overtake depression as the leading cause of disability within our country.

In the 2005 budget, the government identified dementia as a national health priority and announced a $320 million allocation over five years for more research, improved care and very significant intervention programs. This funding includes $225 million for 2,000 dedicated extended aged care at home places to enable people with dementia to remain living in their homes rather than enter residential care.

It also includes $25 million for new workforce training initiatives. Many dementia patients with challenging behaviours may first present to police or other community workers, who need to understand the condition much better than they currently do. For aged care workers, 17,000 dementia-specific training places will be made available under the aged care workers initiative. That is 8,000 more places than were originally announced in the 2005 budget, which indicates significant efficiencies within that program.

I am also pleased to say that the Howard government has made a substantial investment of $7.2 million in establishing Dementia Collaborative Research Centres. These centres will bring together scientists, clinicians, care givers, service providers and families. By pooling their collective knowledge, we hope that they can identify the best ways to address the growing problem of dementia.

The government are also assisting 40 smaller community organisations throughout Australia by providing local community dementia support grants. The grants provide funding for community awareness activities, producing information kits, educational workshops to help raise awareness, improve services and also promote early intervention. At Friday’s launch, I was happy to announce funding of more than $2 million to the Dementia Service Development Grants program. The idea is for the government to give money to organisations with projects that aim to improve the delivery of dementia related services. The government take their responsibilities towards Australians living with dementia, their families and carers very seriously. We are working in partnership with the community—and I am happy to acknowledge here today, also in a bipartisan way with the opposition—to ensure that the human dignity of those suffering from dementia is recognised and respected in the way our community cares for them when they are most in need.

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