The year 2019 has been a very important one for the aged care sector. I am an Aged Care Placement Consultant and have shared many of the issues, developments and opinions that are helping to shape the future of aged care in Australia.
Developments in the treatment of dementia have featured quite prominently. In January the Specialist Dementia Care Program (SDCP) was beginning to roll out. Offering specialised, transitional residential support for people exhibiting very severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), which focuses on reducing or stabilising symptoms over time, the program will provide care for those who are unable to be appropriately cared for by mainstream aged care services. The first specialist units are scheduled to be operational in 2020, with a further roll out in 2021-23.
Assistive technologieswere being developed through the year. One example is a prototype called DRESS to help people with dementia dress themselves. The carer initiates the dress sequence via a mobile device and the recorded voice prompts the person to dress themselves, correcting mistakes. Japan is heading to a workforce crisis in numbers with a rapidly aging population, so the government is encouraging the use of technology in aged care. An example is a robotic device that helps frail residents get out of bed and into a wheelchair or ease them into bathtubs.
And talking robots, I met my first robot in May this year, Lamson, when visiting a newly built aged care facility, Trinity Manor in Greensborough. It delivers medicine and meals, takes laundry and can even use lifts. Also, Griffith University has been using social robots to interact with people with dementia.
Ikkiworks has developed a robot called Ikki, who is a companion and a clinician and will eventually be used in aged care. Ikki can take a patient’s temperature and identify medication and alert the patient if the medication is incorrect.
Another approach to dementia care is the Montessori Inspired Lifestyle ® (MIL) developed by Dr. Cameron Camp. “Within this new paradigm, abilities, interests, and preferences will be respected, encouraged and maximized. Providing choice throughout the day is central to all interactions. Central to MIL is the creation of meaningful activities and social roles within the context of a community.” said Dr. Camp.
The aged care workforce was a subject that kept coming up, particularly the need for more nurses to be on call within facilities. I reported on an interesting study by Adelaide University published in April 2018 into the attraction and retention of staff to aged care. There were many reasons why working in the sector was attractive but the perception of this work as low level and underpaid was a negative.
In defence of the work Melanie Mazzarolli, Regional Business Manager, Residential Services at Benetas wrote in an article about the privilege of supporting someone on their journey to death, similar to supporting birth, and that relationships can be formed over long periods, rarely matched in other nursing roles. She also mentioned the passion of those employed in this sector. With the increase in the aging population more workers will be needed in the sector but finding and retaining them will be an ongoing challenge.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care was prevalent on the news for much of the year and painted a very negative picture of the sector. Clearly improvements across the sector are needed and a statement by the AMA this month spoke of using technologiesto assist meet the demands for care for the elderly. These technologies are already being developed and support for more development is needed.
Ending on a bright note the touching and beautifully produced documentary series The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds aired on ABC in August and September took a look at an experiment in an intergenerational program. This experiment is the first of its kind conducted in Australia with structured activities used to encourage interactions between the children and adults as they worked together to achieve particular goals. Health measurements were taken before and after the program and showed positive outcomes. Professor Susan Kurrle, who oversaw the program, believes the implications of this successful trial could be huge.
I look forward to a more positive focus on aged care in 2020, with improvements and developments that will assist the sector to deliver a high level of quality care to all our older residents.