Dementia is not a single specific disease. It is an umbrella term describing a syndrome—a group of symptoms—associated with more than 100 different diseases that are characterised by the impairment of brain function, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2013, dementia became Australia’s second leading cause of death and no cure exists. In 2014 and 2015 the number of dementia deaths have continued to rise with 342,800 Australians estimated to have dementia in 2015. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) predicts, based on projections of population ageing and growth, the number of people with dementia will reach almost 400,000 by 2020, and around 900,000 by 2050. In addition the ABS reports that dementia has increased from 4.9% of all deaths in 2006 to 7.9% in 2015.
Accelerating innovation in the potential prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management of dementia (including its most prevalent form, Alzheimer’s disease), is a global priority.
The Australian Government announced as part of the 2014 Budget an additional $200 million over five years to boost Australia’s dementia research capacity. Further detail: Budget Paper No. 2, Part 2: Expense Measures - Health
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), working in close collaboration with the Australian Research Council (ARC) on capacity building, is also delivering a series of initiatives to prioritise and fund vital new dementia research projects and translate research to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for dementia patients, their carers and communities.
The Boosting Dementia Research initiative incorporates two main components over five years:
$150 million is allocated to urgently scale up dementia research to accelerate progress towards finding preventions, treatments and cures for dementia. It includes $26 million of Australian Research Council funding research focused on the social, economic and cultural impacts and complex consequences of dementia. It involves:
- additional large scale research projects in priority areas of dementia using relevant NHMRC schemes ($95 million);
- research focusing on dementia prevention and treatment at the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research ($9 million); and
- dramatic expansion of research capacity in dementia and by building the future research workforce ($46 million).
$50 million is allocated to target, co-ordinate and translate the national research effort to ensure existing and new research translates into better care for dementia patients. The NHMRC National Institute for Dementia Research is prioritising and boosting dementia research in Australia and providing the focus to rapidly translate evidence into policy and practice. The Institute is ensuring integration with international research and draw on the expertise of researchers, consumers, health professionals, industry and policy makers to improve dementia prevention, treatment and care outcomes.
The specific elements of the Boosting Dementia Research Initiative are described in more detail below.