SPEECH - Dementia in Australia

  • Speech

I am very pleased to speak on this motion moved today by my friend and colleague the member for Perth, because there has never been a more critical time to address the issue of dementia in Australia. In 2021 there are an estimated 472,000 Australians living with dementia.

Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase by almost 1.1 million by 2058. Dementia is a terminal condition, and there is still no cure. It continues to be the leading cause of death of women in Australia and the second-leading cause of death in this country overall, and it is predicted to become the leading cause of death within the next five years. It is estimated that today almost 1.6 million people in Australia are involved in the care of someone living with dementia. We know that approximately 70 per cent of people with dementia are living at home in the community, so ensuring our communities are dementia-friendly and inclusive makes very good sense and should be a high priority for local, state and federal governments throughout Australia. While health, aged-care and disability sector reforms over recent years have been vital to better supporting people with dementia, we know from what individuals impacted by dementia tell us that there is still a long way to go before we can address and, indeed, prevent discrimination, stigma and misunderstanding of dementia in our communities.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, almost two years ago. He continues to live an active and fulfilling life, thanks in large part to my remarkable mother, a strong family support network, a terrific team of carers, and some truly wonderful people and resources in our local community. All of us have a role to play in supporting him, allowing him to continue the many activities he enjoys, including a daily walk to the newsagent to get his beloved Newcastle Herald. I've learnt a lot about how a little bit of support can go a long way to helping maintain a person's dignity and community involvement.

My father is an extraordinary person. He inspires me every day. He's always been a leader, he's always put himself forward, and he's always mindful of others around him. When I told him I was going to join my colleague and friend, the member for Dobell, who joins me in the chamber today to honour her father's passing in the 2021 Grant McBride Memory Walk and Jog, my dad was the first person to put up his hand and say that he wanted to walk with me. He knew the value of raising awareness and funds around dementia research.

I really want to thank those extraordinary researchers in my community at the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute who continue to do groundbreaking research around the early detection of dementia and potential treatments. But, of course, diagnosis comes with its own set of difficulties if you don't know how to access support and you don't have that readily available in your community. That is why I give an enormous vote of thanks to local communities like Newcastle, who play an integral role in supporting dementia inclusion both in the built environment and in the forms of activities in our communities.

I want to acknowledge the role of the Hunter Dementia and Memory Resource Centre in Hamilton that founded the remarkable Memory Cafe, which we heard members from Curtin and Perth speak of earlier. Regretfully, the funding for the Memory Cafe in Newcastle was cut—that doesn't happen in our city anymore, to a great shame. However, the Newcastle library at the local government level has picked up the Memory Project, a terrific activity where people come together on a monthly basis with an art therapist and historians.

I'd also like to acknowledge a great podcast that my parents recently contributed to called Laughter and Tears: Living with Dementia. It's a podcast series hosted by ABC broadcaster Dan Cox, who has done a lot to make sure the issue of dementia is heard and respected in our community.

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