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Study shines light on dementia knowledge problem

Do you think you know about dementia? A study says we don’t know enough and we’re not doing enough.

  • Health
  • Read Time: 4 mins

King Wally talks about his dementia

Wally Lewis played 441 senior games, captained both Australia and Queensland, and was dubbed the King of rugby league.

Now, diagnosed with dementia, he says he has lost the confidence that he took onto the field throughout his career. 

“I once had the confidence in myself to succeed, lead my team to victory, captain my country, remember the strengths and weaknesses of the way opposition teams [play], organise myself each and every day, and feel well and truly in control of my everyday life,” he told the National Press Club. 

“Now, much of that confidence has been taken away from me by the effects of probable CTE dementia. My everyday life is no longer blessed by confidence in my daily activities. 

“Now I struggle to accept that it has been filled with fear and embarrassment about how forgetful I have become every single day.” 

Lewis is calling on players at all levels, from grassroots to professional, to be educated about the risks associated with sport, and asked the Federal Government to provide funding into CTE research and support programs. 

Dementia is a health and societal topic that is so often front and centre in the media and public discussion. 

When champion rugby league player, Wally Lewis, fronted the National Press Club, the cameras captured his every word when he opened up on his daily battle with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of dementia associated with repeated head injuries, concussions, or sub-concussions. 

Despite the wide coverage and public interest of that disclosure, and other media stories about prominent people with the condition, the first ever national survey on the subject shows that generally Australians know little about dementia. 

Only one in three of us feels confident in their knowledge of how to reduce their dementia risk. 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Dementia Awareness Survey, conducted between July and August 2023 is the largest nationally representative community survey of its kind in Australia. 

It and collected information on how much people know about dementia, as well as their attitudes towards dementia and people living with it. 

“Dementia is a significant and growing health and aged care concern in Australia,” AIHW spokesperson Melanie Dunford said. 

“More than 400,000 Australians are living with dementia and, with this number projected to double by 2058, it’s more important than ever for the community to be aware of dementia and take up lifestyle changes that may reduce their dementia risk.” 

The survey showed that the community generally has a poor understanding of dementia and actions that can be taken to reduce their dementia risk. 

The Dementia Awareness Survey showed:  

One in five (22%) Australians mistakenly believe dementia is a normal part of the ageing process. 

A large proportion of Australians were able to recognise some ways to reduce their risk of dementia such as being physically (77%), cognitively (77%), and socially active (70%). However, fewer than one in three Australians were confident about their knowledge. 

Most Australians (99.6%) are engaged in one or more behaviours that can reduce their dementia risk, but generally did so for other reasons.  

Four in five Australians (83%) agreed that they would be more likely to adopt lifestyle changes if they knew it may help them reduce their risk of dementia.  

There are several commonly held stereotypes about people living with dementia. Around two in three (67%) people believed that people living with dementia needed constant supervision and that they are unpredictable (62%). 

Positively, more than eight in ten Australians agreed that people living with dementia can enjoy life (83%) and that it is possible to enjoy interacting with people living with dementia (83%). Fewer than one in ten people reported that they would exclude a person living with dementia. 

The survey results showed that women, those with higher levels of education and income, those with a family member or friend with dementia, and those who have worked with people with dementia had a higher knowledge of dementia and tended to hold less stigma towards people living with dementia.  

Results from the survey will help inform priorities and areas for dementia awareness initiatives and prevention activities that can reduce the risk, or delay the development of dementia. 

The report is available here.

Be proactive

The main preventative health actions you can take to avoid dementia include keeping physically active, and avoiding smoking tobacco, sports that can cause head injury, and excessive alcohol consumption. 

However, there are things we could be doing but aren’t, including correcting hearing loss and managing depression. 

Dementia Australia has many useful and practical resources on dementia and support for those with dementia and their families. Click here.  

Related reading: AIWH, SMH 


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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