The Leisure Seeker Film Opens Up a Moral Discussion on Dementia

It was good to read Phillipa Byer’s review of the film The Leisure Seeker on 12th July in the Sydney Morning Herald. She pulled no punches about her opinion of the ending and its message. The story is about a retired teacher who has dementia and his wife who has cancer. They embark on a journey in their motor home. Spoiler alert – the finale involves the wife giving her husband a drink that brings about his demise then she commits suicide. The husband had earlier said to his wife that when the time came for him to go to one of “those places” (meaning an aged care residential facility) she should equip him with a rifle and remind him how to use it (on himself).

Phillipa was furious at this ending and I can understand her emotion. I am an Aged Care Placement Consultant and help elderly people find suitable accommodation, this includes people living with dementia and I take a keen interest in aged care facilities that support those with dementia. Philippa volunteers at a dementia specific residential facility, has a relative with dementia and is a research associate at the Australian Catholic University’s Plunkett Centre for Ethics and is currently working on a dementia project.

She states “The belief that residential aged care facilities are so bad that killing or suicide are reasonable preferences is apathetic and alarming.”  She points out that there are surely alternative moral imperatives, such as advocating for more funding as a minimum. She also has issue with the wife administering the death juice but not informing the husband that’s what it is. Surely, he has the right to decide in that moment. She is concerned, that as people with dementia live amongst us, we can’t loosen the moral bonds of honesty with them just because it may be uncomfortable or difficult. A new village being developed in 2019 in Hobart reflects the philosophy that, after a full life making their own decisions, people with dementia can have a valid opinion on their day to day life. Koongee Village allows people with dementia to live, roam free and have all the facilities they need in a safe setting.

The butterfly model being introduced to many aged care facilities in Australia is a new culture of care for people living with dementia and focuses on emotional intelligence. People live in smaller homes, are not treated as patients and are involved in daily activities in the home and garden and also learn new skills. There are good news stories about people living with dementia and, as an Aged Care Placement Specialist, I’m pleased to share them.

Read Phillipa’s Review.

Jillian Slade Case Studies For Suitable Aged Care Accommodation

Jillian Slade with a happy client.

Looking back on some Case Studies of clients I have been able to successfully place in suitable aged care facilities I am so pleased I was able to help these families. I recall the story of two desperate brothers who were under pressure to move their father into aged care within a week! The brothers had found facilities that were close to them were either too expensive, charged additional service fees, were too depressing or had long waiting lists. Both worked full time and were exhausted from searching. I was able to arrange a tour of 5 facilities which met their criteria and when they favoured one I spoke with my contact there about the urgency; within days they had chosen a room and their father settled in very well.

Another situation concerned a couple who were going along quite well in their own home with the husband as main carer for his wife, who was in the early stages of dementia. Then he had a serious fall resulting in a head injury which left him unable to walk again. The family now needed to find him a place in residential care quickly. They were introduced to me as a Placement Consultant and my brief was to find an aged care facility they could afford, be accommodated together as a couple and move in at the same time.  Not an easy ask in Bayside Melbourne! I secured them a place in a lovely facility where they had a couple’s suite and I was able to negotiate an affordable price.

Two sisters who received a nasty shock when told by medical staff that their father’s condition  made it dangerous for him to go back home and live alone came to me for help to find permanent aged care accommodation for him. He had been living alone but began to have falls due to sudden drops in blood pressure and ended up in hospital after a major fall. The daughters had visited what they thought were all the available facilities in the area but there were no vacancies. I suggested a facility I knew of that provided great care where I had a good relationship with the management.  I was able to secure the next vacancy and reduce ongoing costs by $50K. The sisters were very grateful and told me “We couldn’t ask for a better facility for Dad.  It’s very quiet, light and cheerful and the staff are very friendly”. Stories like these make my role as an Aged Care Placement Consultant very rewarding.

 

 

 

 

Exciting New Research On Dementia

Dr. Sarang Kim

Would you have thought that the number one concern facing people with dementia and their carers was social stigma? Researcher Dr. Sarang Kim from ANU conducted a national survey on people’s attitudes to dementia which showed that the general public have negative views and wish to avoid people living with dementia. Dr. Kim was the recipient of the 2016 Alzheimer’s Australia Hazel Hawke Research Grant in Dementia Care and has concentrated her research on the social effects on a person with dementia.

Following the survey Dr.Kim is developing a Dementia Stigma Reduction Program (DESeRvE), which is based on the idea that contact with people living with the condition and education is the best way to reduce stigma. She will use frequently asked questions about people living with dementia sourced from focus groups to have short video clips produced. They will feature people with dementia and their carers answering the questions. Dr. Kim is hopeful that this ‘virtual contact’ and education will help to reduce the level of stigma.

Many of my clients are people living with dementia who reach a stage where they need the level of care provided in an aged care facility. I have noticed that my services as an Aged Care Placement Consultant are being called upon more often by young people with dementia. Most of these clients are in their fifties or sixties and have been living with the condition for about ten years, so the onset was quite young.

Hope for a reduction in the effects of dementia is being offered by the research undertaken by Dr Rebecca Nisbet from the Queensland Brain Institute, who has discovered a feasible treatment. “One of the main causes of Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, two of the most common forms of dementia, is the aggregation of the protein tau within neurons. In our study we generated an antibody specific for tau (RN2N), and investigated its efficacy in clearing tau in a mouse model of frontotemporal dementia,” Dr Nisbet said.

Dr. Nisbet went on to explain that the presence of a blood–brain barrier has historically made delivery of treatment drugs to the brain difficult, but she had found that by using ultrasound, which transiently opens the barrier, that RN2N could be delivered resulting in improvements to memory. Alzheimer’s Australia also provided funding for this important research project, which still has several years to go before it could be offered as a treatment to humans.

 

Senior Forums on Aged Care in Melbourne

Reporting on an aged care forum held recently with seniors in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne facilitated by Aged Care Minister, Ken Wyatt AM, and Member for Chisholm, Julia Banks MP, Ms Banks said “In the electorate of Chisholm, residents aged 65 and over make up 16 per cent of the population and this is set to grow to more than 25 per cent by 2050.”

She made reference to the Aged Care Diversity Framework that was released by the federal government in December as a perfect example how barriers that may exist to accessing appropriate aged care can be eliminated. She spoke of the diverse backgrounds of her electorate saying
“We have welcomed a large number of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who contribute so much to the fabric of our local community. We are committed to ensuring that all Australians have access to safe, quality and respectful care and that the diversity of race, religion, language, sexuality and gender is reflected in the care options available.”

With three aged care action plans being drafted under the Diversity Framework, designed to help guarantee equity of access to care, Mr. Wyatt once again stated that people are living longer than ever before and his vision for ageing and aged care was unwavering.  He further stated the government’s aim is to consistently deliver quality aged care that is accessible, affordable and sustainable and that forums like this helps the government understand what is working and what needs to be improved.

Aged care is currently somewhat of a mixed bag and, as an Aged Care Consultant,  I constantly seek the best options for my clients moving into aged care facilities.  Thankfully the standards are lifting across the board and the government’s reforms will hopefully enshrine the best possible standards of care for our elderly Australians.

Reference: Department of Health Media Hub

Scientific Anti-Ageing Research May Reverse Need For Aged Care

In our rapidly changing society we could go from the present situation where aged care facilities are the biggest construction growth sector to not needing aged care facilities at all! With the recent news that Australian scientists have helped turn back the body clock for elderly mice and their hope of producing an anti-ageing pill for humans, everything could change. Their findings were reported in the Cell journal and Sydney Morning Herald this week

In a five-year study where the elderly mice became as fit and as strong as the younger ones, scientists from Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New South Wales fed a compound to elderly mice that increased muscular blood flow, enhanced physical performance and endurance.  The compound called nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) is a form of vitamin B3 that is naturally produced by the body.

The study’s lead author Dr Abhirup Das, anti-ageing researcher at the University of NSW, explained that “NMN can make the old cells healthy, and it can increase capillaries and blood flow.”  This is very important, because as people age, their body largely stops building capillaries and blood flow slows down. Cells are starved of oxygen and nutrients, resulting in weakness and frailty. The best way to slow this process is by exercising but the body’s response to exercise declines with age.  This is where the compound comes in; it is virtually exercise in a pill.

Past attempts at producing an anti-ageing pill failed as the compounds used had to pass through the digestive system, which broke it down before it could be effective. The MNM compound converts to something called NAD+ which doesn’t go through the digestive system. Human trials have shown that this compound is safe for consumption. Later this year more human trials will test its effectiveness in the human body.

Currently I am immersed in helping elderly people and their families to find the most suitable and comfortable residence for their golden years when it’s apparent they need a higher level of care than their present circumstance provides. I take great care to investigate the best possibilities for my clients and sometimes even negotiate a better deal for them in their selected aged care facility.  However, I would happily give away my career if this pill becomes widely available and reverses the effects of ageing. It would be wonderful to see my clients and other elderly people enjoying a younger, fit body to carry them through their later years, staying at home and remaining independent.

 

National Plan to Address Elder Abuse

Following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission Report on Elder Abuse handed down in June 2017 a national plan to offset elder abuse is currently being developed by federal and state governments.  Nationally consistent laws to respond to elder abuse are among the key goals that also include:

  • promoting the autonomy and agency of older people;
  • addressing ageism and promoting community understanding of elder abuse;
  • safeguarding at-risk older people and improving responses;
  • building the evidence basis.

I have spoken about elder abuse in past blogs.  Due to my role as an Aged Care Placement Consultant I work closely with elderly people and their families and have, at times, been aware of this taking place. so I was pleased to see the ALRC report and recommendations delivered last year.  The development of a national plan from these recommendations, that is expected in draft version by the end of this year, will be very welcome.

Attorney-General Christian Porter stated at the recent National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney that the national plan would bring government, business and community stakeholders together to properly address this critical issue. He told the audience that addressing elder abuse was not just a legal issue so attorneys-general would work together with ministers from health, community services and other portfolios to develop the plan; in consultation with the community sector, seniors, business and financial sectors.

Meanwhile Victoria is the first state to develop its own action plan, launched this February. The Elder Abuse Community Action Plan for Victoria was developed by the National Ageing Research Institute, supported by Seniors Rights Victoria, the Office of Public Advocate and community service providers. It sets out 10 priorities to address elder abuse:

  • Clarify the relationship between family violence and elder abuse.
  • Raise community awareness of elder abuse and promote a positive image of older people to reduce ageism.
  • Increase availability of “older person centred” alternatives to disclosing elder abuse.
  • Standardise tools for recognising abuse and develop and implement a common framework for responding to elder abuse.
  • Increase availability of family (elder) mediation services including for people living in rural areas and CALD communities.
  • Provide education and training on elder abuse for all health professionals in health and aged care services.
  • Improve data and increase evaluation.
  • Clarify whether carer stress is a risk factor for elder abuse.
  • Improve understanding and response to elder abuse in CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • Improve housing options for both perpetrators and victims of elder abuse.

Aged Care Future Planning Paid Off

Caroline and Billy

Last week I wrote a blog about future planning for aged care. For Billy and Caroline it paid off. With my help they planned for the day they would move to an aged care facility. Caroline and Billy received an offer from their chosen facility last week, and have gladly accepted it.

Initially they were hesitant to consider moving from their home, despite encouragement to plan for this from both their family and doctor. When I was referred to them in April/May last year they decided to explore the possibilities with my help. Caroline had concerns for the short term that she may need to go to hospital and her husband Billy cannot be left on his own. In the long term they wanted to be together and share a suite. I recommended they get their financials in order so they would be prepared, and referred them to a Financial Planner.  We decided to begin searching in their local area for suitable accommodation.

They continued to manage reasonably well at home with services and assistance from their family until late last year when Caroline needed hospitalisation for a few days. Interim care was arranged for Billy at home but when Caroline had complications and had to stay in hospital longer, I found emergency respite for Billy in one of the homes we had initially visited.  The family were very pleased with the care Billy received but for Caroline it was not the facility where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

Once Caroline and Billy returned home, she called a family meeting, which I attended, and informed her family that she had decided that it was time for her and Billy to make the transition to permanent residential care. She felt that, should there be another crisis, she did not want this undue pressure put on her family again. They had decided on Kew Gardens Aged Care, so I contacted the facility and asked for their application to be moved from waiting to urgent. Within two months a suite became available. They chose the Kew Gardens aged care facility because it is right across the road from their present home and they already have friends residing there.  Set on the edge of beautiful Kew Gardens, it is aptly named and has a pleasing outlook. They will move shortly. I am so pleased that this transition will be far less stressful for them ,due to their taking action and forward planning. I was happy to assist them in their planning and take pride in doing the best for my clients.