60% of over 65s have at least three chronic problems

SIXTY per cent of Australians over 65 have three or more chronic conditions, according to the latest Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) Report.

Alzheimer's Australia believes this highlights how significant primary care is for people living with dementia, currently the second leading cause of death in Australia.

"The evidence from this report confirms that older Australians are accessing their GPs more and more, yet the average time between first symptoms of dementia and a diagnosis is still three years1" Alzheimer's Australia CEO Carol Bennett said.

"We believe this is due to a lack of good information and education about dementia, its warning signs, and its assessment, both for health care professionals and for the community in general."

The report indicated that with population ageing, older people have more chronic disease and higher health care needs and are going to require more diagnostics, more referrals, and more treatment and management.

"We know that the role of primary health is absolutely critical for people with chronic conditions like dementia, as this is almost always their first point of contact. We need to ensure that Australians are not falling through the gaps by providing targeted information and education on dementia in the primary health care area," Ms Bennett went on to say.

To better utilise the role of primary health care professionals Alzheimer's Australia recommends:

  • A systematic, competency-based approach to cognitive assessment, which includes input from family members and carers
  • Including cognitive assessment in the 75+ health assessment
  • Ensuring adequate management of medications that may cause or exacerbate cognitive impairment
  • Improving clear referral pathways to specialist dementia services
  • Providing education and support to enable primary health care nurses to play a greater role in assessment, diagnosing and managing dementia, as part of a primary health care team.

"The 342,800 Australians living with dementia deserve to be better supported by their health care system so they can live successfully in the community for longer.

"In turn reducing early admission into residential aged care, reducing higher levels of avoidable hospital admissions and poorer end of life care.

"To begin to achieve this we need a comprehensive approach to education and information across general practice, primary health care, acute care and the aged care sector, to support our ageing population experiencing chronic illness."

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