Almost half-a-million people in Australia are currently living with dementia, and an extra 250 people are diagnosed each day.
The word dementia describes a number of neurological conditions affecting the brain which cause a progressive decline of a person's functioning.
It is the single greatest cause of disability in Australians aged 65 years and over and is Australia's second leading cause of death.
Dementia is not a normal part of ageing.
It affects your thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday tasks.
Symptoms include loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and physical abilities.
Around the world, it is estimated that one person begins developing dementia every three seconds.
Without a medical breakthrough, the number of Australians living with dementia is projected to grow to almost 1.1 million by 2058.
Experts recently cast doubt on the reliability of this projection and are demanding a national dementia prevalence study.
According to these experts, there could be far more people living with dementia than we realise, as many go undiagnosed.
Some experts also say that current statistics are an educated guess, noting they're largely based on international studies since Australian-based data is rare.
It's well established that our country's population is ageing.
Rapidly. In 2017, there were 3.8 million Australians aged 65 and over.
By 2057, this number is expected to grow to 8.8 million and by 2097 it will reach 12.8 million.
For every five years over the age of 65, a person's risk of developing dementia almost doubles.
In the absence of national dementia data, it's critical that the severity of this mounting crisis is not underestimated.
We have a societal responsibility to support the independence and dignity of people as they age.
This should include thinking, planning and acting in more inclusive ways so that people of any age can enjoy the highest possible quality of life.
The Australian Government announced in July it will provide $21 million to fund research projects focusing on the reduction, prevention and tracking of dementia.
While this important research is conducted, there is more we can do now to enrich the quality of life for people with dementia.
This responsibility does not sit squarely at the feet of any one government body, industry, organisation or individual.
It is up to all of us to work together to evolve our communities, services and mindsets to be more inclusive of older people, particularly those living with dementia.
After all, any one of us may find ourselves one day facing the challenges that dementia brings.
Retirement living providers have a unique opportunity to play a more active role in the care and support of older Australians.
With the average age of entry into retirement villages trending at 75 years and climbing, many people now expect that a move into a village will be their last.
Everyone has the right to choose where and how they live and to remain living in their own home for as long as possible.
By instilling dementia-friendly design principles into new retirement village developments, and refurbishing older ones to meet current and future residents' needs, we can better support people living with dementia to maintain their independence, dignity and inclusion in community life.
Even small changes to an environment's design can make a significant difference to the quality of life for a person living with dementia.
For example, contrasting colours for roads and pavements within a village can help people more easily find their way.
Avoiding repetitive streetscapes by painting villa facades different colours can further reduce confusion. Inside villas, it's helpful to ensure the layout and design helps people easily see what they need.
The most obvious example being the toilet. You can do this by ensuring a clear line of sight from the bedroom to a toilet that has a contrasting coloured lid.
A person with dementia is eight times more likely to make it to the toilet in time if they can see it easily.
Dementia Action Week falls this month, from 16 to 22 September.
The theme is Dementia doesn't discriminate. Do you?
As people are urged to join this important discussion, I ask you to consider how our communities, businesses and ways of thinking could be discriminating against people living with dementia and what we might do differently to change this.
Becoming more aware and educating ourselves about dementia is the first step to better supporting our family, friends and neighbours living with this disease.
Stig Andersen is the Executive General Manager - Retirement Villages for IRT