A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said that only 12 of the 35 specialized dementia units the government had promised to operate by 2023 were operational.
To respond to the growing number of people with dementia who have severe behavioral and psychological symptoms, in 2016 the federal government announced the Specialized Dementia Care Program. [SDCP].
Under the SDCP, 35 residential aged care homes across Australia were to have access to a specialist care unit for people with severe, unmanageable dementia symptoms in a main residential aged care facility. The units were to be staffed by people specially trained to respond to severe dementia symptoms such as aggressiveness, and a registered nurse was to be on site for 24 hours.
The first 14 units were to be commissioned by 2020, and the rest by the end of 2023. But a federal government spokesperson told The Guardian Australia 12 [SDCP] The units have been working so far. He said six additional units will open by the end of 2024.
He did not respond to questions about when the total 35 units will be operational or about the reason for the delay.
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The ability of residential aged care facilities to care for the growing number of Australians with severe cognitive impairment is again called into question following the tragic case of 95-year-old Claire Noland.
Nowland was tasered by a police officer on May 17 at her residential nursing home while using a walking frame and wielding a steak knife. She passed away on Wednesday. Questions are now being asked about why the police were called, and what dementia training those caring for had received.
As Guardian Australia previously reported, there are no mandatory dementia training requirements for resident aged care staff, although the condition has overtaken coronary heart disease as the leading cause of disease burden in elderly Australians.
The number of Australians living with dementia is expected to exceed 800,000 by 2058, said Dr Kylie Stokes, executive director of advocacy and research at Dementia Australia.
She said high-quality dementia care should be mandatory for all aged care workers, regardless of whether they work in a specialized unit.
“By building leadership and capacity in the workforce to better understand dementia, staff will know what to do in situations where residents’ behaviors are changing,” she said. “By understanding behaviors, triggers, and the influence of the environment, many difficult situations can be avoided.”
The Royal Commission on Aged Care’s final report, delivered to the government in 2021, stated that “dementia care should be the core business of aged care services, particularly residential aged care services”.
Mary*, who is a carer for her dementia-stricken husband and lives in a residential nursing home in Tasmania, told Guardian Australia the reality is anything but.
“The issue of dementia patients in hospice care and their potential uncontrollable behaviors is a ticking time bomb,” she said.
In January, Mary wrote to the Minister for Health, Mark Butler, and the Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, about the need to “increase urgent support for people with dementia in residential aged care facilities”. It also asked ministers to mandate residential nursing home staff to educate and train dementia patients. Did not receive a response.
Ministers did not directly respond to Guardian Australia’s request for comment, but a government spokesperson said there was free aged care and health workforce training available through the National Dementia Training Programme. He said the introduction of registered nurses on site 24 hours a day from July, and an average requirement of 215 minutes of care per day from October 2024, would improve the quality of residential care, especially for people with dementia.
But Mary worries that not enough is being done to deal with the revolving door of staff in hospice who don’t know the residents well, and she worries that the staff need to do any extra training on their own time.
While Mary said her husband did not become aggressive, other residents of his home did, leaving her husband feeling insecure. She had lodged three complaints with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) regarding a lack of well-trained staff and poor staff-to-occupation ratios in her husband’s home. “After so many months of work, my complaints have gotten me nowhere,” she said.
In 2022, the government requested an independent review to assess the ACQSC’s ability as a regulator. This report was delivered to the government in April.
The federal Department of Health and Aged Care will not provide a copy to Guardian Australia, saying it will be issued with the government’s response “in due course”.
Director of Aged Care Matters, public health researcher Dr Sarah Russell, said there was still a lack of transparency from government about progress in addressing the issues highlighted by the Royal Commission in Aged Care and progress towards providing safe and humane care for the elderly.
Russell said, “The government was given the report on April 20, so why the delay in publishing the capacity report?” “Didn’t the Labor government promise us transparency?”
*The name has been changed to protect the spouse’s medical privacy