Mark Coulton (Parkes, National Party)
I would like to acknowledge the member for Newcastle for bringing this very important motion into the House. Dementia Awareness Week is a very important part of the process to bring dementia to the forefront for the Australian population. I think awareness of dementia is one of the issues that are creating a lot of the difficulties for dementia sufferers and their families, because early diagnosis is clearly one of the better ways to get on top of the treatment and control it. Indeed, the sooner that someone is diagnosed with dementia, the better their chance of living independently, living in their own home and prolonging the elevation of the disease over time.
There are a number of measures that we can all take to try and prevent dementia grabbing hold of us sooner than it needs to. One of those is regular exercise. What is fascinating for those of us who are members of the Health and Ageing Committee is that we are finding that exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help decrease the risk of not only dementia but a lot of other diseases later on. The increased blood flow through the brain evidently is just as important as keeping mentally active by whatever means that might be.
I would like to focus on the difficulty of caring for someone with dementia in a rural and regional area. There are a couple of examples I would like to give. In one of my towns, Lake Cargelligo-that is in the Riverina, the central west area of New South Wales-there is no high-care facility for people who have dementia. I know a couple of men in that town whose wives have dementia. They cared for them as long as they possibly could in their own homes, but finally they had to go into higher care. Lake Cargelligo is a bit over 100 kilometres from Condobolin, the nearest care centre. That amounts to a 200-kilometre round trip to see their wives. These people who have been together for 60-plus years are now separated. It is almost like a premature death. There is no public transport, and these men are in their 80s. At best, they can manage one visit a week. We know that it makes a difference if people can be cared for close to home and that one of the important things is for family members to be in there on a daily basis to help with the feeding, to keep stimulating their brains and all those things. If you are separated from your spouse by a 200-kilometre round trip and you are in your 80s, that is a tragedy. In this day and age, it is a real shame that we still have that situation in Australia.
Another example I would like to give is of a lady who is caring for her husband and is determined that, while ever she has the strength in her body, she is going to care for him. They live 70 kilometres from town on a rural property. She has had to convert her home, including putting locks on all the cupboards and putting in a fence so her husband cannot wander. She has dedicated her life to caring for him because she does not want him to have to go to a care centre that would be 70 kilometres away. She is having a lot of difficulty getting the home care to help her with that task that someone who lived in a larger centre or in the city would take for granted.
Ageing in general is the freight train that is coming to Australia. Dementia is very much a part of that. By 2050 a million people in Australia will be suffering from dementia. It is important that we are prepared for that event.