The Australian Medical Association (AMA) Vice-President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today that the AMA is planning a bigger role for doctors in treating and caring for an ever-increasing number of patients with dementia.

The AMA's Committee on the Care of Older People met over the weekend to discuss proposals for a whole-of-community approach to meeting the dementia challenge, with doctors playing a central role.

The AMA's initiatives come as research commissioned by Alzheimer's Australia estimates that nearly 52,000 Australians would be newly diagnosed with dementia this year.

Dr Haikerwal said 1000 new dementia cases a week present an unprecedented emotional and economic crisis for families, which calls for comprehensive planning by governments, the healthcare sector and the general community.

"The dementia problem is bigger than anybody could have predicted," Dr Haikerwal said.

"Now that all Australian Governments have categorised dementia as a national health priority and the Commonwealth government has committed significant funding, we can start developing strategies to cater for the needs of dementia patients and their families.

"Doctors will be at the heart of these strategies, and the AMA has set some priorities for future planning.

"The immediate task is to use all the available research into dementia - local and international - to implement prevention strategies and develop effective early diagnosis and treatment.

"Diagnosing dementia is challenging and takes time, and requires skills which we must recognise and utilise.

"We also have to ensure that dementia patients have smooth access to the available sources of appropriate care - community, residential aged care, sub acute care, and acute care in hospital.

"But to be truly effective we have to recruit and train specially skilled health professionals, including GPs, geriatricians and psycho-geriatricians into dementia care.

"The research shows that dementia is a big health challenge for the future, but the reality is that it is a significant problem now.

"We have to do the hard work now to prepare the health system and the community for the emotional pain that dementia brings to sufferers and their loved ones," Dr Haikerwal said.

Australian Medical Association

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