Australia’s dementia mortality rate 14 per cent higher than start of pandemic

Australia’s dementia mortality rate 14 per cent higher than start of pandemic

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has highlighted the urgency for a refocused COVID-19 response to decrease the mortality rate of those living with dementia. (Image: Eduardo Barrios, Unsplash)

By Lauren Wisgard @LaurenWisgard

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals the average death rate for people living with dementia has increased by almost 14 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Recently released provisional mortality statistics by the ABS from between January and November 2021, highlighted the dementia mortality rate was 14 per cent higher than the 2015-19 average.

Interestingly, the average death rate in 2021 increased by six per cent in one year alone.

Deaths due to dementia during 2015-2019, 2020, and 2021, according to the ABS. (Image: Lauren Wisgard)

Dementia Australia Executive Director of Advocacy and Research, Dr Kaele Stokes, says people living with dementia are affected by COVID-19 at higher rates than the broader population.

“COVID does impact people with underlying health conditions who are more vulnerable, [and] those living in residential aged care represent a higher proportion of people who are passing away,” Dr Stokes says.

Dr Stokes also says COVID-19 has negatively affected the mental health of people living with dementia due to isolation caused by restrictions.

“There’s already that discrimination and isolation being experienced by them and COVID really exacerbated that because it’s disrupted the service and social settings people living with dementia had in place.”

Aged care resident, Mavis Barrett, was among the many elderly people in Australia to experience the effect of COVID-19 restrictions. Her daughter Sandy Comley says it was all incredibly confusing for Mavis.

“I saw a big change in her, it made a big difference going in and having to wear masks and mum was harshly deaf as well, so she used to rely on lip reading,” Ms Comley says.

“She was often quite confused and didn’t know what was going on or couldn’t recognise people, so that just made it harder for her.”

Ms Comley also said even though the staff were amazing, the restrictions had a significant impact on all the residents.

“There weren’t as many people just floating around for them to just have a chat to,” she says.

“Mum’s lucky in a way that she did pass so that she didn’t have to endure this for any longer.”

While COVID-19 remains a very real risk for people living with dementia, Dr Stokes believes the vaccination rates provide hope morality figures will decrease.

“In the early days of COVID, we didn’t have any frontline defences other than to restrict our movement,” Dr Stokes says.

“I think now it’s important we recalibrate our response to balance safety with individual wellbeing and quality of life.”

In response to the significant impact of COVID-19, the Federal Budget for 2022-23 sets out the government’s plans to allocate more funding into upskilling the aged care workforce to better support dementia patients.

Following a range of recommendations from the Royal Commission, the budget states that the training will “support the improved practice and knowledge of dementia and palliative care of aged care workers”.

Aside from government action and changes to workforce training, Dr Stokes says key support for dementia patients comes from their loved ones remaining part of their daily routine.  

“Once their cognition has declined it’s generally unlikely they will regain that cognitive function,” she says.

“Being part of that day-to-day care can be a really important factor for preventing their dementia from progressing more quickly.”

To find out more about Dementia Australia and ways you can support a loved one living with dementia, head here.

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