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Speech at the launch of National Dementia Awareness Week: Melbourne: 21 September 2004.



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The Hon Julie Bishop MP Minister for Ageing

National Dementia Awareness Week Melbourne, 21 September 2004

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Professor Graham Burrows, Lynette Moore, Glenn Rees from Alzheimer’s Australia, our special guests, Professor Khachataurian, Adam Elliot, my Federal Parliamentary colleague in Petro Georgiou, and State Parliamentary colleague in Andrea Coote, ladies and gentlemen.

The art of film brings many benefits beyond just entertainment and intellectual stimulation. In his animated film, Harvey Krumpet, Adam Elliot touches sensitively and quite charmingly on the issue of Alzheimer’s. Harvey’s an ordinary man, seemingly cursed by bad luck, and he develops Alzheimer’s. Yet he finds love and freedom and nudity in his search for the meaning of life. So on Oscar night, amongst all the Hollywood hype, people talked about Alzheimer’s. And people are still talking about Alzheimer’s as this delightful little film receives international recognition. I think it very appropriate that we have Adam Elliot here today as part of National Dementia Awareness Week.

Can I say how delighted I am to meet Professor Khachataurian, a most distinguished expert in this field. I listened him on ABC radio this morning and I was very interested in his observations on early diagnosis.

It reminded me of an event not so long ago. I was at Alzheimer’s Australia Sydney and was launching a DVD on management and care of people with dementia. The film showed real life situations. Prior to the launch I was mingling with the crowd and talking to a youngish man, probably late 40s, maybe 50, and I assumed he was a carer. But no, he was actually somebody who had been diagnosed with dementia and was in the film. He brought home to me that dementia is more indiscriminate in terms of the age of onset than perhaps the community appreciates.

Ladies and gentlemen, as the Minister for Ageing, I am deeply committed to ensure that Australia continues to support those who are diagnosed with dementia in terms of the care that they receive. Dementia is a priority for aged care. Already over $2.6 billion a year is invested in programs, dementia-specific programs, including:

• about $2.3 billion in the financial year 2004-05 specifically for people with dementia in residential aged care. This is out of a total budget of $5 billion for residential aged care; • about $158 million specifically in Home and Community Care programs for people

with dementia, out of a total budget of $790 million on the part of the Australian Government; • about $56.7 million in Community Aged Care Packages, out of a Budget of $300 million;

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• over $10 million for dementia-specific programs in the Extended Aged Care at Home initiative, out of a total budget of $32 million; • $43 million for dementia-specific targeted services; • $34 million a year for the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits anti-dementia

medications; • some $5 million for psychogeriatric units that can carry out expert clinical assessments.

And of course there is additional funding for carers, for innovative care, for assessments, for workforce and for general practitioner initiatives.

This level of funding is significant. It is only expected to increase as the prevalence of dementia increases. In the last Budget, in 2004, the Australian Government was able to invest a record sum in aged care, some $2.2 billion, the single largest package in aged care by any government at any time. Within that funding there was a supplement for dementia care in recognition of the high cost of caring for people with dementia.

In terms of research, Australia has a small population, I mean we are some 20 million people. Yet we have been able to establish world-class centres in dementia research across Australia.

The Australian National University epidemiology research by Professor Jorm and Christiansen. At Monash University Professor’s Opie and O’Connor in behavioural psychology. At Melbourne University Professor Masters, Bush, Howlett. At the University of New South Wales, Professors Brodarty and Halliday in behavioural psychology and Lewy bbody dementia research. The University of Queensland has some five separate evident researchers working in dementia-specific research. In my own state of Western Australia the University of Western Australia Professors Flicker and Jamrozik on risk factors and prevention.

Yet there is so much that we do not know about dementia, and whilst changes in the brain that are evident in memory loss are being disentangled, the underlying cause is still a mystery.

That is why dementia-specific research must be considered in the broader context of research generally. Neurosciences, microbiology, genetics - these are all areas that receive research funding. They may be the area with the key to understanding dementia.

Currently the Australian Government provides support for dementia-specific research through the allocation of a National Health and Medical Research Council endowment account. Funding to the NHMRC has more than doubled under this government. Today it is more than $400 million a year.

The NHMRC is currently funding 49 grants totally $6.4 million this year in dementia-specific research. Overall, funding for mental health and neuroscience has gone from some $30 million two years ago, to $40 million today.

I am particularly pleased that the NHMRC is intending to fund a program grant for dementia-specific research of a further $4.6 million in 2005, for investigators including Professor Brodarty at the University of New South Wales.

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The NHMRC has already committed a further $5.5 million in ongoing dementia-specific research in 2005, and of course, that will be increased by additional dementia research grants funded as part of our annual project grants which will be announced by the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon Tony Abbott, in the near future.

In 2002 the Australian Government introduced the National Research Priorities. Mental functioning and neurogenerative disease, was one of the National Research Priority themes. I think it is also important to note that the NHMRC is collaborating with the Australian Research Council to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to research generally. About $10 million has been allocated to this project to ensure multidisciplinary approaches to research.

Further, in my portfolio of Ageing, as part of the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia, there is a collaborative project between the Office for an Ageing Australia and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It is called Building Ageing Research Capacity - and the government provides about $340,000 to the Building Ageing Research Capacity, or BARC as they call it, to develop and encourage maximum collaboration and coordination between Australian researchers across this country on ageing issues, and ageing research.

A Dementia Research Capacity Building Workshop was held in September 2003 and that identified the need for quality research in dementia. The government established a number of groups to support this research area, including a Working Group on dementia-specific aged care, an Expert Forum on ageing research, and a Positive Ageing Taskforce.

Recently the Australian Government made a contribution of $250,000 to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer’s Research Fund.

Research is bearing fruit. This year Associate Professor Jillian Kril at Sydney University announced a breakthrough in identifying fronto-temporal dementia. This research was conducted with an Australian Government grant - it was about $437,000 over three years - and we have been delighted by the research results and we have extended that funding with a

further $410,000 over the next three years. These results can be used by researchers throughout this country and overseas.

A key partner in our coordinated approach to dementia research, as well as dementia treatment, policy development and education, is Alzheimer’s Australia. I pay tribute to Alzheimer’s Australia for the magnificent work that they do.

Last year the government, in recognition of Alzheimer’s Australia’s contribution, provided about $12 million for a range of very important programs. We are proud to be part of the sponsorship of this conference with our contribution of $115,000.

The financial commitment to research is well under way. The collaboration and the links between researchers both nationally and internationally are being established.

The financial cost of supporting those with dementia and their carers is significant and will only increase. But it is the emotional cost that is incalculable.

Not only are we committed to implementing policies that support people with dementia and their families, we must continue our research capability in our quest for greater knowledge and greater understanding.

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This is not just a political necessity, it is a moral imperative.

Ladies and gentlemen I wish the conference well and I am delighted to be able to take part in National Dementia Awareness Week.

Thank you.