Quality dementia care must be prioritised

By Maree McCabe AM, CEO, Dementia Australia 

Source: APNA Primary Times Winter 2023 (Volume 23 Issue 1)


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) recently reported that dementia is now the leading cause of disease burden for Australians aged 65 and over, and as such, quality dementia care needs to be an intrinsic, core element of aged care in Australia.1 A dementia-informed health-care system is needed to ensure Australians impacted by dementia receive appropriate support and care throughout their experience of the disease.  

When the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was handed to government in 2021, it stated ‘dementia care should be core business for aged care services, and particularly residential aged care services.’2 

While there has been significant investment and many aged-care reforms are underway, there is still much to be done to fulfil the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. 

Dementia prevalence in the community and residential aged care is significant. We know 68.1% of aged care residents have moderate to severe cognitive impairment and 2 in 3 of the 400,000 Australians with dementia live in the community.

With this high prevalence, it’s imperative that we have an informed system where staff working across health-care industries have education in dementia. It’s also important that health and aged-care workers, and Australians generally, know to contact Dementia Australia for support and information when they need it.  

Embedding a minimum level of compulsory dementia care education for all care workers, including nurses, is as important as increasing staffing numbers and wages. When people living with dementia receive care from professionals who have completed dementia education, they tend to experience fewer incidences of changed behaviour (such as agitation, aggression, hallucinations, loss of inhibition and depression) and they benefit from a more consistent experience of quality care.4 

We know dementia education leads to fewer high-risk incidents, lower rates of inappropriate use of medication and more positive staff attitudes and morale, which ultimately results in better service delivery and quality of life for people living with dementia. 

It’s not just government that needs to implement change. We need to see a commitment to quality dementia care from boards, directors and governance committees across the aged-care, disability and health-care sectors by addressing dementia as an ongoing priority. 

In order to do this, the focus going forward for Dementia Australia includes implementing change in the following areas: 

  • Dementia support pathways – People living with dementia, their families and carers must have optimal access to the integrated services and supports they need to live the life they choose. 
  • Building workforce capability – The workforce, leadership and culture must understand and support people impacted by dementia and have the skills and knowledge to sustainably embed quality dementia care. 
  • Dementia-friendly design – Physical environments must support people living with dementia to be as independent as possible. 

All of these changes are underpinned by placing people living with dementia firmly at the centre of dementia care.  

With a longer-term focus and vision that includes dementia specialisation in all pathways to nursing and aged-care qualifications, we can ensure aged care and dementia will become a more specialised and attractive career to pursue for health-care professionals and will attract the qualified staffing numbers needed for the future. 

In the short term, upskilling the current workforce using existing education tools from the Centre for Dementia Learning at Dementia Australia will begin to alleviate some of the pressures and challenges of caring for someone living with dementia. 

Educating the workforce has been the focus of the Centre for Dementia Learning for a number of years through programs such as consultancy and providing a comprehensive suite of education programs. The aim is to transform dementia practice through programs that are informed by practice, research and by what people living with dementia tell us. 

With this high prevalence, it’s imperative that we have an informed system where staff working across health-care industries have education in dementia.

At the heart of these programs, the Centre for Dementia Learning works to engage, enable and empower participants to develop real insights into what it is like to live with dementia and in doing so change their attitudes and behaviours in order to transform their health-care practice. 

One of these programs is the mobile app, Ask Annie, which offers short, self-paced learning modules to help care workers refresh their skills and learn tips and techniques to provide better care to people living with dementia.   

‘Annie’ is a virtual community care worker providing support to a person living with dementia. She guides users through a range of scenarios to strengthen their dementia care skills. The modules are short and focused on providing carers with practical ways to address challenging situations. Each module takes approximately 5 minutes to complete. 

People living with dementia, their families and carers have told us what they need, and Dementia Australia is committed to seeing through a transformation that improves the quality of care and support for people impacted by dementia. Change takes time. We know that if we focus on these initiatives and consistently and collectively strive toward change on the ground, experiences of quality care will be improved over time. 

The sooner the aged-care workforce is accessing appropriate dementia care education and training, the sooner we will begin to see the changes needed to improve the health, lifestyle and care outcomes for people of all ages living with all forms of dementia, as well as their families and carers. 

We know from our work and broad consultation with people living with dementia, their families and carers that if we get quality care right for people living with dementia, then there will be quality care for all.   

If you would like more information about Dementia Australia’s education programs or would like to get in touch with the team, visit dementialearning.org.au

Dementia Australia can help you, as well as support your patients living with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, or patients who are concerned about changes to their cognition. Call 1800 100 500. We’re here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

 

 

References 

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Impact of dementia on the rise among older Australians [media release], AIHW website, 23 February 2023, accessed 19 April 2023. www.aihw.gov.au 

2 Australian Government, Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Final report: executive summary, Royal Commission website, 1 March 2021, accessed 19 April 2023. https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au 

3 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Dementia in Australia, AIHW website, 23 February 2023, accessed 19 April 2023. www.aihw.gov.au 

4 Dementia Australia, ‘Dementia education and the residential aged care workforce’, Policy Position Statements, Dementia Australia website, May 2022, accessed 19 April 2023. www.dementia.org.au 

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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