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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7239

Mr LYONS (Bass) (16:53): I rise to add my remarks on the report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing on dementia. Alzheimer's Australia state there are over 320,000 Australians living with dementia and:

This number is expected to increase by one third to 400,000 in less than ten years …

Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to be almost 900,000 by 2050.

Dementia is a leading cause of death in Australia. In 2010, the most recent year for which the data is available, it was the third most common cause of death.

Dementia is not a single condition, rather it is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of conditions that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday tasks. Characteristics of dementia involve impairment of brain functions, including speech, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills. Its onset is typically gradual and progressive—in that as the condition develops, the patient deteriorates and it is irreversible. For the majority of people with dementia, assistance will eventually be required for activities such as making decisions, managing relationships, coping with feelings or emotions, and undertaking cognitive or emotional tasks.

Although dementia occurs more commonly in older people, contrary to popular belief it is not an inevitable or 'normal' part of the ageing process. Dementia has wide-ranging implications for carers, families and friends of people living with the condition. In my home state of Tasmania, the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre is at the forefront of research and support for individuals, their families and carers. The Wicking centre is the largest health research group in Tasmania. The success of the Wicking Dementia Research Network, funded initially in 2010 by the UTAS Community Engagement fund, has created greater connectivity between dementia service providers and researchers. I was most pleased to show the Hon. Mark Butler, the Minister for Ageing, the great work they are doing last year when he visited my electorate of Bass.

It is critical that we support the development of a highly educated and skilled workforce and attractive career paths in aged care. Having a skilled workforce is particularly important as the ageing of our population is changing the face of care. Care needs are becoming more complex as people live longer and require care associated with dementia, diabetes and other chronic diseases. These mentor-based clinical placements integrate theory and practice and ensure that the future aged-care, health and medical workforce is equipped with the skills and knowledge to meet the care needs of Tasmania's growing ageing population. Masonic Peace Haven aged-care facility in my electorate of Bass has been closely involved in this program, and I believe it has been a valuable teaching tool for students. I thank the committee for the opportunity to chair our meeting in Launceston.

Dementia can happen to anybody, but it is more common in those over the age of 65 years. It is essential that a medical diagnosis is obtained at an early stage when symptoms first appear to ensure that a person who has a treatable condition is diagnosed and treated correctly. If the symptoms are caused by dementia, an early diagnosis will mean early access to support, information and medication and preparations for the rest of their life.

At present there is no prevention or cure for most forms of dementia. However, some medications have been found to reduce some symptoms. In Launceston we received evidence that shunting—removing fluid—does assist some people. Support is vital for people with dementia and the help of families, friends and carers can make a positive difference in managing the condition.

I wish to place on record my thanks to the late Hazel Hawke, who worked to raise the profile of dementia and the importance of investment in research to improve the quality of dementia care. As Ita Buttrose, President of Alzheimer's Australia, has said, her courage has left a lasting legacy. I thank the secretariat and those who took part in this inquiry, particularly those in my electorate who gave evidence when the committee went to Launceston. This committee is a true reflection of the fact that most members come to this place to do the right thing by the people of Australia.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 16:58