Aged care in dire straits

Illawarra Retirement Trust chief executive Nieves Murray.
Illawarra Retirement Trust chief executive Nieves Murray.

A damning report into the state of Australia’s aged-care system released by Alzheimer’s Australia yesterday came as no surprise to those involved in Illawarra dementia care services.

The report, commissioned by the Federal Government’s Department of Health and Ageing, contains hundreds of testimonials compiled from public consultations held in capital cities and regional centres between October and November last year.

While there are some positive comments, most are heartbreaking accounts from carers and dementia sufferers who are frustrated with all aspect of the aged-care system, saying it is complicated, inflexible and unable to meet their needs.

Illawarra Retirement Trust chief executive Nieves Murray wasn’t surprised by these findings.

‘‘It sounds pretty cold, but this is what we deal with every day,’’ she said.

‘‘We’re at the coal face dealing with the emotion of the families and people affected, and when this dreaded disease takes hold it’s heartbreaking, you can see the person’s anguish and that their family is losing their loved one.’’

Ms Murray said the report highlighted the need for the Government to act quickly to improve aged care.

‘‘I think this report is incredibly timely, because dementia is one of the single biggest health issues facing this country and our region,’’ she said.

She said she had been ‘‘actively agitating’’ for an increased focus on aged care in the federal budget and called on the Government to invest in all areas of the system but particularly training and research.

‘‘Our message has been that it’s urgent, and while we understand that there needs to be thorough review and careful analysis of information that has been released, the time is now,’’ she said.

‘‘The urgency for us is that we hear that the Government wants to hit a surplus at all costs and our fear is that aged care will miss out.’’

University of Wollongong dementia researcher Professor Richard Fleming welcomed the report, saying it was a brave move from the Government to invite public comment on aged care.

However, he said its dire findings were ‘‘no surprise to those involved in the delivery of care to people with dementia’’.

Prof Fleming is head of a study centre helping to design and fit out buildings to reduce depression, agitation and confusion for people with dementia and increase their social engagement.

He said researchers now had a significant amount of knowledge which could help reduce a number of issues outlined in the report, but more funding was needed to put this into practice.

‘‘The funding of research should not be neglected but the reality is that a great deal of knowledge has already accumulated on how to meet the needs of people with dementia; the problem is not lack of knowledge but lack of translation of the knowledge into practice,’’ he said.