Sep 18, 2017

We Need Better Aged Care for Australia’s Growing Dementia Population

With people in general living longer, the population of Australians with dementia is growing.

There are more than 400,000 Australians living with dementia, and this is expected to increase to more than 1,100,000 by 2056 if no medical breakthrough is found.

Currently around 244 people each day are joining the population with dementia.

The number of new cases of dementia will increase to 318 people per day by 2025 and over 650 people per day by 2056.

Alzheimer’s Australia predicts that the aged care sector will need to add 500 to 1,000 new aged care beds each month for the next 40 years.

So is the aged care sector prepared to care for this growing group of individuals? What changes need to be made?

Nursing workforce

More than half of Australia’s aged care residents have a dementia diagnosis, and with it they are likely to have other medical and cognitive health issues.

The staff that care for them in aged care are primarily made up of carers and nurses. For them, there is a need for better training and more dementia specific qualifications.

Many Personal Care Assistants are able to receive qualification in a few short weeks – but many of those graduates lack basic skills that are needed in aged care, let alone those needed for residents with dementia.  

And though there are many tasks that require a registered nurse to complete, the staffing issues cannot be simply fixed by hiring more nurses. This is because there is a shortage of nurses in aged care.

The staffing ratio is determined by the individual aged care provider who can decide how many carers and nurses they take on.

Some aged care workforces struggle with inadequate staffing, excessive workloads leading to a decline in quality of care – something that will continue to get worse if things do not change.

Improvements would include finding ways to attract, train and retain staff – some facilities have a nursing staff turnover of 90%.

Subsidies for Visiting Doctors

Currently there are no items in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) that compensate doctors for nursing home visits.

And without this incentive, many GPs choose not to visit aged care facilities.

As the dementia population, who often have other compounded health issues, require more care for their complex conditions, it would logically require more attention and visits from doctors.

This is something they are not getting.

Doctors also require a more in-depth understanding of dementia and how to treat and manage people with the condition. Much like nurses and carers, doctors can benefit from further studies in dementia care.  

Funding for People with Dementia

The root of the struggles that many aged care operators face come down to one thing – funding.

Things from food offered to number staff to recreational activities are all determined by the funding that the aged care provider is able to access.

This year, the aged care sector avoided any cuts as it was announced in the Budget that Federal Government are maintaining current levels of funding in the 2017-2018 Commonwealth Budget.

However, that raises the questions that if the number of people with dementia are rising, including those using aged care services, then shouldn’t the funding also increase?

Many facilities are finding that their budgets are spread too thin.

The aged care sector needs to adapt for whats to come – more and more residents with dementia. It’s a health condition that doesn’t appear to be going away. It is up to everyone – the government, service providers, staff and families – to help attain better care for people with dementia.

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