Private Members' Business - Dementia Awareness Week

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:45): I rise to support the motion before this chamber tonight put by the member for Newcastle, and commend her for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. In particular, I acknowledge that it came as no surprise to me that she would do so, because she has a long history of advocacy for people in many circumstances where they suffer from disadvantage or disability, but this is an important one too. I also want to endorse the comments of the member for Brisbane. And I am sure that in regard to my colleagues the members for Shortland and Ryan, who are in the chamber to speak on it, I will be able to endorse their comments in advance, because I know that both of them are people well committed to the issues that confront those dealing with dementia as well.

The motion that has been put before us from the member for Newcastle, starts by noting the extent of the problem as it confronts us as a nation, and it is true that dementia is a significant chronic disease. It is the third leading cause of death in Australia—that is, after heart disease and stroke. There are one in four people over the age of 85 who have dementia, and the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow from 269,000 people today to almost one million by 2050. It is important to realise that around 52 per cent of all aged care recipients have some form of dementia.

For many people it can take more than three years from the time when they are first noticing symptoms to actually receiving a diagnosis of dementia, and it is important that we get better support and training in place, particularly for health professionals, to assist them in caring for individuals when behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia are apparent. Earlier intervention will enable us to ensure individuals with dementia can live in their home environment for a longer period of time.

The member for Newcastle's motion acknowledges the size of this particular problem. I think the member herself made the point—as she does in the motion—that there are 1,600 new cases of dementia occurring every week, and that number is expected to grow to 7,400 new cases per week by 2050. It is a significant health problem for the nation, but each and every one of those cases is a significant health problem for the family involved. It is not an easy disease for people to deal with, and it is important, I believe, that it is prioritised by all governments so that we can intervene earlier and more effectively and provide better support, not only to the sufferer but to their family and carers as well.

Part of that is the second point of the member's motion, which recognises the importance of Dementia Awareness Week, which starts this Friday, 21 September, and will provide the opportunity to raise awareness and promote the needs of dementia sufferers, their families and carers. It is a very important activity to undertake. I just want to take the opportunity in regard to that to acknowledge some work by a group in my own area, a support network that I have met with on a number of occasions, and the local Alzheimer's Australia group of people who have been working to put together a free public seminar for Dementia Awareness Week, entitled 'Unravelling the myths about dementia'. It will be on next Wednesday, 26 September, and they have secured a special guest speaker, Sue Pieters-Hawke, who, as many people would be aware, has written the book Hazel's Journey, dealing with many of the issues that families are struggling with around dementia.

I want to acknowledge and commend Val Felland her team for putting that seminar together. It will be followed by a community expo, where a lot of service providers will engage with and talk to families about what services they can provide. There will be a welcome to country by Aunty Bev Almah, and also they will be hearing from Miss Danielle Wright, the manager of education for Alzheimer's Australia and the 'Your brain matters' campaign, which the member for Newcastle referred to. Also Dr Clair Langford, a geriatrician at Illawarra health, will be talking about the facts and the myths, and there will also be some local providers there. Kelly Andrews from the University of Wollongong is talking about a pilot program that they are running, which is very good, on dementia services.

It will be an excellent activity all around. I think Val and her team should be commended for organising that as overall it is an important issue. The government has made it one of its nine health priorities, as the member for Newcastle indicated, and I think it is well worth all of those in this House participating in such activities in Dementia Awareness Week.