THE number of Orange people diagnosed with dementia will double to 2000 in the next 20 years making it more important than ever for people to be aware of ways to stave off the disease, according to the CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW John Watkins.
The former state minister visited Orange on the weekend as the city’s Australia Day ambassador.
Mr Watkins said dementia was a major problem for Orange, as it was for communities across Australia.
Currently 300,000 Australians have some form of dementia with the number expected to skyrocket to 500,000 within five years.
“Within 20 years dementia will be the leading cause of death in Australia but most people don’t even realise it’s a fatal disease,” he said.
“Studies show people are quite frightened of it but the other message is people do live with dementia for five to 10 years and most of that time they can live at home with their loved ones and have happy lives.”
Mr Watkins said dementia also affected the spouses and families of sufferers but people could minimise their risk of acquiring the disease by leading a “brain healthy” lifestyle and looking after their weight and blood pressure.
“It’s a condition we shouldn’t accept as being normal,” he said.
“Looking after your health by exercising regularly, evidence shows, can slow down the onset of the disease.”
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom during Mr Watkins’ visit with the former teacher meeting students he used to teach 20 years ago while in Orange.
Mr Watkins said he had visited Orange many times during his former life as a politician as well as through his role with Alzheimer’s Australia, but he also has a personal connection with the city.
“My aunt lives here and my niece has just moved here,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful place. Today shows what a vibrant community it is.”
Mr Watkins said Alzheimer’s Australia has an office in Orange but more dementia services are needed across NSW.
“We’re worried about the lack of access to specialists in country NSW,” he said.
“[Dementia sufferers] need to see gerontologists and psychiatrists.”
Mr Watkins said Orange was well served for residential aged care services, but there was a demand for more services to help sufferers stay in in their home for longer.
He would also like to see more money spent on research into causes and cures of dementia.
“Only about 10 per cent of every research dollar spent on cancer is spent on dementia,” he said.