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Federal Funding Being Sought For Early Detection of Dementia

With Australia facing a 200 per cent upsurge in the number of people suffering from dementia, increased Federal funding is urgently needed to support early detection – to reduce the massive financial and personal cost of the condition.

That’s the belief of the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association (ADIA), which is calling on the Federal Government to promptly address the way Medicare supports dementia sufferers.

“Because we don’t have a cure for degenerative forms of dementia, early detection is the key,” said Dr Chris Wriedt, ADIA’s
Vice President.  This allows patients to receive the correct drugs which can improve their quality of life. It can delay the need for expensive full-time care. And, just as importantly, it gives people time to prepare and make decisions about their future – an ability the dementia will eventually take away.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia, the number of Australians with dementia is expected to increase from approximately 300,000 today to 900,000 by 2050. The total direct health and aged care cost for dementia was at least $4.9 billion in 2009-10.

“Diagnostic imaging, particularly a CT (Computed Tomography) scan, is a primary diagnostic tool for dementia. It can identify the degree and distribution of brain shrinkage, and rule out pathology such as tumours or haemorrhages which may be causing the dementia,” Dr Wriedt said.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) or Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) services might also be needed.

“To identify and then properly track the development of a patient’s dementia requires a series of scans but, because of the way
Medicare is currently structured, these can be very expensive – so expensive that many people are simply avoiding them,” Dr
Wriedt said.“That must change.”

Medicare rebates for medical imaging have not been indexed to match cost of living increases since 1998. This means the ‘gap’
patients have to pay has been growing, and is now increasing by 10% per year. Some imaging is not rebated at all, leaving patients
to pay the entire cost.

“As an industry we’re doing what we can. For example, many practices bulk bill Health Care and Pension Card holders but many
dementia patients don’t qualify for these cards,” Dr Wriedt said.“It’s now up to the government to reform the rebate system. “Surely it makes economic sense to keep people out of high-cost, full-time care as long as possible. Providing appropriate Medicare  rebates for diagnostic imaging services will help do that. “And it will help improve the lives, and the dignity, of a huge number of Australians facing a cruel battle with dementia.”

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Alana Lowes

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