It is no secret that Australia has a rapidly ageing population, with those aged above 65 set to make up over 20 per cent of the population within 10 years’ time.

While this is good news for the property industry as development in the aged care and retirement living space is critical, a crucial factor that requires direct consideration across the industry is that currently around 52 per cent of all permanent residents in care have a diagnosis of dementia.

Dementia is now the second leading cause of death in Australia. With more than 413,000 Australians with the disease, it is projected that there are 244 new cases diagnosed each day.

By 2056 the figure is set to increase to a total of 1.1 million with a prediction of 650 new cases per day. As the numbers increase, so do costs: from an estimated $14 billion a year in 2017 to $36.8 billion in 2056. Of these costs 61 per cent are direct, including factors such as residential care.

As the number of Australians with dementia rises, so does the need for full-time residential care facilities. However, not all care facilities are created equal.

Nursing homes vary in size, level of care and quality of fit out. They range from more exclusive (and expensive) small homes for up to eight residents to 200-bed aged care homes with wings dedicated to dementia patients. Issues around adequate care are also linked to the progression of the disease.

Ideally, care facilities are designed in a way that adapts to the changing needs of residents. In the early stages, individuals are more independent; in later stages, intensive high-level 24/7 care is required.

A major issue being considered across industries, from insurance to property, is not only how individuals will afford the long-term costs of dementia care but the provision of facilities to provide it.

This year, it is estimated that construction commenced on around 120 aged care homes Australia-wide, with a mixture of new build and extensions to existing facilities.

The projections suggest that by 2025 some 255,800 carers will be needed in the community and 122,100 carers working in the accommodation care sector. These numbers are expected to double in the short space of a few decades.

With such rapid development, the next generation of care facilities needs to be equipped to meet the changing needs of its residents and their carers.

Also of concern are the geographic “black holes” in dementia residential accommodation. Not only are remote and rural areas significantly lacking in infrastructure, so are entire suburbs in major cities.

This compounds issues around access to social support networks for people with dementia and their carers, as well as financial costs.

The property industry has an important role in aged care incorporating dementia care, from both a business and an ethical standpoint. In the short term, there are planning considerations around adequate facility numbers, location and optimal conditions.

Collaboration with researchers and care providers can help improve this process. Ultimately, however, construction of new facilities – regardless of how innovative they are – is a stop-gap measure.

The social and economic burden posed by dementia is simply too great if current projections continue unchecked. Targeting the factors contributing to dementia incidence is the only way of reducing this burden, given that a dementia cure remains elusive.

The complex and varied causes of dementia, with its multiple sub-types, makes a single, “silver bullet” style treatment difficult to conceive.

By contrast, the latest statistics suggest if the number of people developing dementia aged over 65 years can be reduced by just 5 per cent, this could save $5.7 billion between 2016 and 2025, or a staggering $120.4 billion by 2056.

My team at Colliers International has a dedicated national Healthcare & Retirement Living division and we are proud to be one of the leading experts in the Aged Care industry.

We have acknowledged the need for collaborative behaviour between the property industry and dementia researchers and as such are proud to have formed a philanthropic partnership with leading experts at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW Sydney.

Colliers is again a proud sponsor of the property industry Wipeout Dementia surfing fundraiser set for November 17.

Collaboration provides researchers with the funding needed to expedite studies into risk and protective factors for dementia, which in turn influences policy and community intervention strategies.

Simultaneously, awareness of the latest evidence-base around dementia, its progression and best practice for care, can help the property industry invest in appropriate residential infrastructure.

At Colliers, we are acutely aware of the increasing need for dementia-specific care across facilities in Australia and by supporting dementia research we hope to play a major role in changing the future of dementia incidence and care and encourage all fellow property developers to do the same.

This content was originally published in the Australian Financial Review on 21 September 2017, World Alzheimer’s Day

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