This paper provides a high-level introduction to dementia, including its nature, prevalence in Australia, and research about how to best care for people living with dementia. It has been prepared by staff of the Office of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety but does not represent a direction or position of the Royal Commission in relation to these areas. Any views expressed are not necessarily the views of the Commissioners.

Dementia is a complex and broad set of conditions which can have a devastating impact on people’s lives—those living with dementia, their families, close friends and carers. It is significant in Australia’s health and aged care systems, with dementia contributing to approximately 15.8% of all deaths in 2015, and over half (52%) of people living in residential aged care in 2016, having a diagnosis of dementia.

People living with dementia will have different experiences of care, from the time of diagnosis and living at home, to care in residential aged care, and palliative and end-of-life support. Improving dementia care drives research into prevention, assessment and diagnosis, intervention and treatment, living with dementia, and models of care. However, there are challenges in conducting research with vulnerable people that may impact on research conclusions. With the exception of pharmacological treatments, much of the evidence and many of the recommendations about dementia care come from single studies or consensus, based on expert opinion.

There is some research-based evidence for interventions (i.e. changes or modifications to current practices or the introduction of new practices) to:

  • prevent and detect dementia;
  • support early diagnosis;
  • manage cognitive and behavioural and psychological symptoms through the use of medicines and other structured interventions, such as music;
  • support families and carers;
  • improve the quality of living and dying for people with dementia.
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Background paper 3
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