What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a single specific disease. It is an umbrella term describing a syndrome associated with more than 100 different diseases that lead to impairment of brain functions including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills. It is typically develops gradually, progressive in nature and irreversible.

Dementia is not a normal part of ageing and although it can affect young people, the main risk factor for most types of dementia is advancing age. The prevalence of dementia increases exponentially with age from about 65, doubling every 5 or 6 years.

Dementia is a major health problem in Australia and was the third leading cause of death in 2010 (accounting for 6 per cent of all deaths), with an average of 25 people dying from dementia every day. Estimates for 2011 suggest that dementia is the fourth leading cause of overall burden of disease, and the third leading cause of disability burden. For people aged 65 and over, dementia is the second leading cause of overall burden of disease and the leading cause of disability burden, accounting for a sixth of the total disability burden in older Australians.


(Resource: Dementia in Australia, AIHW, 2012)

Leading causes of death in 2010

Cause of death (ICD-10 code) Number Rank
Ischaemic heart diseases (I20-I25) 21,708 1
Cerebrovascular diseases (I60-I69) 11,204 2
Dementia(F01, F03, G30) 9,003 3
Trachea, bronchus and lung cancer (C33-C34) 8,099 4
Chronic lower respiratory diseases (J40-J47) 6,122 5

Source: ABS 2012. Causes of death                                                                                     


Updated:  6 September 2013/ Responsible Officer:  Responsible Officer/ Page Contact:  DCRC ANU