Sep 06, 2017

Could Tragedy Have Been Avoided With More Specialist Aged Care Beds for Dementia?

A call to action has been made for more mental health beds to be available for people with behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Recently, a Western Australian man living with dementia had murder charges against him dropped after he was accused of fatally stabbing his wife.

The 88 year old man, who is waiting for a room at one of two dementia-specific facilities in Perth, is now in a secure ward at a hospital that caters for older people with mental health issues.

It’s not uncommon for people with severe behaviour disorders to be admitted to an acute mental health unit in a hospital while they wait for an aged care bed. But for many, that wait could be up to a year.

This has lead to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) urging the Western Australian Government to increase the number of high dependency mental health beds available for older people throughout the state.

“Recent cases show we need to prioritise the planning and delivery of services to support the needs of elderly Western Australians with severe behavioural disturbance,” Dr Elizabeth Moore, Chair of the Western Australian Branch of the RANZCP said.

“It is urgent that we address the gap in the continuity of care, particularly concerning the needs of high dependency older people with dementia, as they are such a vulnerable group of people.”

Western Australia has a significant shortage of high dependency accommodation for elderly people with severe behavioural disturbance, with only 16 beds available throughout the state.

In comparison Victoria have more than 32 times more than Western Australia, with more than 500 specialised aged care beds available.

“At present elderly people, with severe mental health issues, are accommodated as long stay patients in acute mental health units while they wait for up to two years for a bed in a High Dependency Unit at a residential aged care facility.”

“This is unacceptable and has significant implications, not just for patients, but also for their families and carers,” Dr Moore said.

“People need to have a system where they can feel confident entrusting their loved ones.  The Western Australian government needs to invest in more beds, and new purpose-built infrastructure, to care for the needs of these vulnerable patients.”

“While the state government has stated that its plan is to increase the number of Older Adult Long-Stay beds by 10, current modelling tells us that the state needs approximately 90 beds to cope with the demand on the system.”

“The increasing mental health needs of elderly people in WA requires appropriate planning and resourcing.”

“We need an overall increase in clinical care services in community settings, and an increase in the number of acute, sub-acute and non-acute mental health beds for elderly people who can’t be accommodated at home or in residential aged care,” Dr Moore said.

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