Australia’s population is ageing

Australia’s population is ageing. According to the Australian Government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) statistics, at 30 June 2020, approximately 4.2 million people (16% of Australia’s total population) were aged 65 and over. Older Australians are generally considered to be those aged 65 and over, unless otherwise specified. For older Indigenous Australians, the age range of 50 and over is used, reflecting the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and the lower proportion of Indigenous people aged 65 and over.

Australia’s population is ageing due to increasing life expectancy and declining fertility rates. The number of people at the older ages is growing and older people are representing an increasing share of the total population.

Government data shows that:

  • The number of older Australians has increased from 1.0 million (8.3% of the total population) in 1970 and 2.1 million (12%) in 1995
  • The number and percentage of older Australians is expected to continue to grow. By 2066, it is projected that older people in Australia will make up between 21% and 23% of the total population
  • For those aged 85 and over, the proportion has increased from 0.5% (63,200) in 1970, to 1.1% (190,400) in 1995, to 2.1% at 30 June 2020 (528,000). The proportion is expected to continue to rise to between 3.6% and 4.4% in 2066.

Women are living longer than men

  • At 30 June 2020, over half (53%) of older Australians (aged 65 and over) were women. There were an estimated 2.2 million women and almost 2.0 million men aged 65 and over
  • The gender ratio at older ages reflects the higher male mortality of the older Australian population. At 30 June 2020, there were 88.1 older males (aged 65 and over) for every 100 older females

International comparisons

  • Like many developed countries, Australia has a high median age, with a relatively large proportion of its population aged 65 and over. In 2020, the median age in Australia was estimated at 37.9. This was slightly lower than for the United States of America (38.3 years) and the United Kingdom (40.5 years).

Mental health in Australia statistics

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 43 per cent of Australian adults will be affected by mental illness at some time in their life. Anxiety, mood disorders (such as depression) and substance use disorders are the most common mental illnesses experienced by Australian adults.

Australian dementia statistics

With an increasingly ageing population comes an increase in the number of people living with dementia.

The AIHW estimates for 2022 indicate that there are around 401,300 people living with dementia in Australia, including 251,700 women and 149,600 men. This is equivalent to 15 people with dementia per 1,000 Australians (19 per 1,000 women and 12 per 1,000 men).

Dementia rises with age

Not surprisingly, the rate of dementia rises quickly with age – from less than 1 person with dementia per 1,000 Australians aged under 60, to 71 per 1,000 Australians aged 75–79, and then to 429 per 1,000 Australians aged 90 and over.

Higher rates of dementia in women than men

Interestingly, the rates are similar for men and women in the younger age groups, but quickly diverge with increasing age. For the oldest age group, the rate of dementia among women is 1.4 times the rate of men (479 per 1,000 women and 337 per 1,000 men).

67% of people with dementia live in the community

Based on the AIHW estimates, there are an estimated 267,700 people with dementia living in the community (as opposed to cared accommodation) in 2022 (102,200 men and 165,500 women). This equates to 67% of all people with dementia living in the community (68% of men and 66% of women with dementia).

Many people with dementia live independently in their own homes, often until their dementia has advanced and care needs become greater.

According to the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), of the people with dementia who lived in the community in 2018, 86% lived in private dwellings with other people, while 14% lived alone. Men were more likely to have been living with other people (91%) than women (81%).

Australian dementia projections

The number of Australians with dementia is projected to more than double by the year 2058.

With Australia’s population expected to continue growing and ageing into the future, the number of people with dementia is also expected to rise. Applying the AIHW-derived prevalence rates discussed above to ABS population projections for each year to 2058, it is estimated the number of people with dementia in Australia will more than double over this period from 401,300 in 2022 to 849,300 in 2058 (around 315,500 men and 533,800 women) (Figure 2.3).

International dementia statistical comparisons

In 2021, the OECD estimated that the prevalence of dementia in Australia was 15.1 cases per 1,000 population, close to the OECD average of 15.7 per 1,000 population and ranking 19th lowest out of 38 countries. Mexico had the lowest rate, half the Australian rate at 7.7 per 1,000 population, whereas Japan’s rate was highest at 26.7 per 1,000 population (OECD 2021). These are unadjusted prevalence rates, meaning that much of the variation in dementia prevalence across countries is due to differences in population age structures, with ageing OECD nations tending to have higher prevalence rates.

Incidence of dementia in Australia

Emerging evidence suggests the incidence rate of dementia is declining in several high-income countries due to improvements in the prevention and management of vascular risk factors for dementia (i.e. high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease). This decline has been seen despite rising cases globally of other risk factors for dementia, such as diabetes and obesity. It isn’t clear whether a declining incidence applies to Australia as we do not know the net effects of changing dementia risk factors coupled with an ageing population. For example, Australia’s obesity rates are among the highest of OECD nations but its mortality rate due to coronary heart disease lies just below the OECD average.

According to The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study, an ongoing population-based longitudinal study providing important information about dementia incidence among older community-dwelling adults (aged 70–90) since 2005, of those adults in the study with no cognitive impairment, 9.5% developed dementia over 6 years. Of participants with mild cognitive impairment, 4.7% developed dementia 2 years later.

Dementia is one of the leading causes of death in Australia

In 2021, dementia was the second leading cause of death in Australia after coronary heart disease, and was the leading cause of death for women, causing 10% of all deaths in Australia in 2021 (13.1% of all deaths among women and 6.9% of all deaths among men).

Provisional mortality estimates indicate an upward trend in deaths due to dementia. Over the year to date in 2023, deaths due to dementia were above the baseline average in the years of 2017–2019, and in 2021, and above the number of deaths recorded at a similar point in 2022 (ABS 2023).

Dementia carers

  • In 2022, it is estimated there are between 137,600 and 354,200 unpaid carers of people with dementia who live in the community.
  • 57% of primary carers of people with dementia in 2018 were providing on average 60 or more hours of care every week
  • Half of primary carers of people with dementia in 2018 were caring for their partner with dementia

Why do dementia carers do it?

  • family responsibility (64%)
  • they could provide better care than someone else (46%)
  • alternative care is too costly (42%)
  • no other family or friends were available (32%)

The health impacts of dementia on carers

Impacts on carers’ physical and emotional health and wellbeing was noted in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC)

  • 75% of primary carers of people with dementia (75%) said that they experienced at least one physical or emotional impact because of the role
  • 41% feel weary or lacked energy
  • 31% frequently feel worried or depressed
  • 13% frequently feel angry or resentful
  • 7% have been diagnosed with a stress-related illness

Employment and financial impact on carers of those living with dementia:

Among working-age primary carers of people with dementia the employment and financial impacts found by the Australian Bureau of Statistics were:

  • 80% of carers who were currently unemployed or not in the labour force did not want to be employed now that they were in the caring role
  • 33% of carers who were employed had to reduce their weekly work hours
  • 52% experienced a financial impact since taking on the caring role
  • 24% had a decrease in income
  • 28% had extra expenses

The cost of aged care and dementia

Australia’s response to dementia requires economic investment across the health, aged care and welfare sectors. In 2018-19:

  • $3 billion of the total direct health and aged care system expenditure was spent directly on dementia
  • $596 million was spent on community-based aged care services
  • $1.7 billion was spent on residential aged care services
  • $383 million was spent on hospital services

 

Elder abuse in Australia statistics

  • According to Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) research in 2021, almost one in six older Australians reported experiencing abuse in the last 12 months.
  • Only about one-third of those victims have sought help.
  • The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that the most common forms of elder abuse were:
    • psychological abuse (11.7%)
    • neglect (2.9%)
    • financial abuse (2.1%)
    • physical abuse (1.8%)
    • sexual abuse (1%)
    • some older people (3.5%) experienced more than one type of abuse, with the most common combination being psychological abuse and neglect.
  • Perpetrators were mostly family members, with adult children the most likely to commit abuse, making up almost one-fifth of perpetrators. Friends (12%), neighbours (7%) and acquaintances (9%) were also cited as commonly responsible.