Should Australia adopt a national Dementia plan?

 

Anyone who works in healthcare, particularly those in aged care, can attest to the fact that dementia is one of the largest problems facing our aged population. Here are a few Australian facts courtesy of Alzheimer’s Australia:

  • There are more than 413,106 individuals in Australia living with dementia
  • Currently 244 new individuals will be considered has having dementia every day
  • Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians
  • In 2017 the cost of caring for those with dementia in Australia is estimated to be 14.67billion
  • Dementia is the single biggest factor leading to disability of adults over the age of 65
  • Dementia accounts for 52% of those residing in aged care facilities (RACF)

It is a huge problem! In an article on the 2nd of June in Australian Ageing Agenda Maree McCabe of Alzheimer’s Australia has strongly encouraged Australia to join the international community in developing and funding a national Australian dementia policy. In the article it states that the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted a Global Plan of Action on Dementia, and that Australia should join other countries in adopting it.

What is Australia doing about it?

The government’s response has not been favorable to Alzheimer’s Australia’s (AA) request. Dr Margot McCarthy told a Senate estimates committee that, although she was aware of AA’s request there was no national strategy but a series of increased funding for research and new dementia-specific programs. Dr. McCarthy also in her statement referred to the National Framework on Action on Dementia, but said the government had to decide on how to follow-through with the framework.

The National Framework on Action for Dementia 2015-2019 was developed by the  Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC) through a consultative process and merely serves to

The purpose of the Framework is to guide the development and implementation of actions, plans and policies to reduce the risk of dementia and improve outcomes for people with dementia and their carers. It does this by drawing on current evidence to promote dementia friendly societies and delivery of consumer-focused care.

The keywords here is ‘guide’ and ‘development and implementation’. This is NOT a national framework, but merely a fact-finding paper with the results of interviews and consultations on the problem. While the national framework policy does not give any direct action to the problems of dementia, there have been some attempts by the government to tackle dementia issues.

In June of 2016 the government began a commitment to tackle the issue of dementia in the community by the initiation of the Severe Behviour Response Teams (SBRT), a partnership between the government and Hammond Care. The SBRT is meant to be an assessment and management team designed to visit the individual and work to identify and create strategies to handle adults who suffer from dementia-related behaviours. The government also acknowledged at the time that specific dementia facilities for those with behaviours would be needed. Dr. Judd, then chief executive of Hammond Care, indicated that accreditation standards for aged care facilities had led to those facilities increasing in size and therefore “as nursing homes get bigger and bigger, it becomes harder not to have institutional buildings which are less homelike and more regimented… Today, the public areas of some aged care ‘facilities’ look more like airport lounges than lounge rooms” (quote by Dr. Judd taken from this article).

A year later and the Ageing Australian Agenda article confirmed that the special dementia units promised in 2016 were largely not developed. Therefore, the bulk of dementia-specific management of older adults rests squarely on the shoulders of current residential aged care staff and caregivers when dementia-sufferers are at home. But what about the WHO’s Global Action on Dementia? Wouldn’t that give some indication on where Australia should go?

The World Health Organization and Dementia

I have looked through the WHO’s website and cannot see any agreed final document on the global action on dementia. According to the WHO dementia has been labeled as a public health priority in 2012 and a Ministerial Conference on Global Action on Dementia did occur in 2015, resulting in a draft document of the same name. In the push for WHO development of information a site entitled The Global Dementia Observatory was meant to be a sharing house for information relating to statistics on global dementia and development of strategies to treat and handle those with dementia. However, in my research neither has the Global Action on Dementia been finalized nor has the Global Dementia Observatory been created and implemented despite statements made by Alzheimer’s Australia.

So from my perspective after looking at all of the information the WHO is no further in looking for a unified dementia strategy than Australia is. We continue to develop reactionary stop-gap measures to modify behaviours and reduce pressure on caregivers. But that does not help identify and treat the root cause. Non-government organizations like Alzheimer’s Australia and Hammond Care are doing great things to try and help this looming national (and international) epidemic.

We in healthcare are at the front-line of this issue. Of the patients I see a vast majority are over the age of 65, as they take up more acute healthcare beds. And while I do not have specifics of those with dementia I can say with my experience that many who enter our beds do. Dementia causes quite a few issues that can lead to life-shortening situations.

My thoughts

Those who follow this blog know that I have talked twice about the concept of ‘premature deaths’ a topic surrounding why individuals in aged care facilities are dying from un-natural causes. Falls was listed as the greatest cause of these premature deaths. I wonder if Mr. Ibrahim’s proposed study would look to identify of those falls how many patients have a diagnosis of dementia? Being reasonable and looking at common sense, if I do not have dementia and have all of my faculties would I not use the vast range of mobility aids and ask for help to prevent falling when I look to walk or even stand? Those with dementia do not have the for-sight to realize that they are no longer able to mobilize without help, and therefore are at higher-risk of falling.

Interestingly Dr. Judd in his address in 2016 also talked of aged care facilities becoming larger. This is another troubling point. Larger facilities mean more residents for staff to monitor in a larger space. Another interesting study could look at the amount of time each staff is given per resident. I think it would find that staff have difficulty in adequately supervising residents, particularly those with dementia who are prone to stand and walk- and therefore fall.

Unifying Australia’s stance on dementia and the associated research and programs would give clarity and focus within all aspects of the aged care community. Let’s face it, the aged care population is faced to grow over the next few years. And with it those with dementia is also most likely going to grow. It is a debilitating condition that we need to know more about to effectively care for and treat. I agree with Mrs. McCabe, Mr. Judd and the WHO that we need to put more focus on a unified and strategic plan to deal with this growing epidemic.

References

Australian Ageing Agenda: Australia behind as global dementia plan endorsed

Alzheimer’s Australia: KEY FACTS AND STATISTICS FOR MEDIA – NSW

Australian National Framework for Action on Dementia 2015-2019

Australian Ageing Agenda: Coalition to fund special dementia care units for severe behaviours

Dementia Behaviour Advisory Service

Hammond Care: Severe Behavoiour Response Team

World Health Organization: Dementia

 

Better behaved- new study finds lower rates of smoking, drinking and drug use

The day after World No Tobacco day the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare published statistics from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. The results of that survey are encouraging:

  • Young people (under 30) are smoking less with rates dropping significantly from the 2001 survey. However, the decline is much less when compared to the 2013 survey.
  • Rates of smoking for those in their 40s, 50s and 60s have not lessened.
  • Young adults are showing a decrease in weekly alcohol consumption compared with 2013, however binge drinking is still excessively high. Youths under the legal age are also reporting less alcohol consumption and there are less reports of alcohol-viewed violence.
  • Illicit drug use has declined since the 2001 survey, however there is a slight increase since the 2013 survey.
  • Methamphetamine use is seen as the biggest concern regarding illicit drugs with crystal meth the most used variant.

What does this mean for those of us in healthcare?

There is a vast amount of evidence that smoking over a long period of time leads to higher rates of chronic health problems and increases the individual’s need for healthcare services. The lower rates of smoking of young people, although not immediately beneficial, will lessen the future health burden.

Every week our emergency department, along with many others around the country, see patients who have been the victims of over-intoxication and alcohol-fueled violence. While the binge drinking continues the lower violence numbers mean again less use of acute hospital beds, particularly on the key Friday-Sunday nights when parties typically occur.

I can say from my experience that Ice (Methamphetamine) is the most common illicit drug we see in our department. While not as problematic according to reports as drugs such as the Zombie drug it still causes a considerable amount of time and resources on the hospital system to treat.

The Future?

I am a realist. We will never completely eliminate behavioral health problems such as teenage drinking or smoking. Drug use will continue indefinitely. But at least we can see that improvements on a public health scale are being made. This will lead to more healthcare services being available for other unwell patients and can prevent young people from having poor future outcomes due to bad choices being made today.

References

AIHW: National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016 key findings

 

Telehealth to combat Australia’s growing demand for healthcare?

An article in IT Brief tackles the topic of how Australia is going to tackle the increased need for healthcare moving forward. According to a report in the Newcastle Herald Australian men are ranked in the top three countries worldwide in life expectancy, while women are in the top fourth. This is great news for Australians, and can cause sleepless nights for policy makers. The World Health Organization reports that currently Australia as of 2014 spends 9.4% of Gross Domestic Product on healthcare, that equates to approximately $4,357 per person. With the baby boomers expected to reach their senior age this figure is surely going to rise.

The IT Brief discussed several

items relating to IT and healthcare. One such discussion was over the My Health Record program by the federal government. I have previously discussed the My Health Record in another post. I believe it is a vital and important forward step in advancing the Australian healthcare system.

Another item discussed was the use of smartphone apps and other personal IT devices to aid in chronic disease management. This is a field that is sure to improve as our tech-savy population ages.

But the item discussed that interested me was that of individuals being able to visit with a doctor via an online medium. This was described in the article as a potential way for people to access medical care without needing to wait in a doctor’s office and would allow access in rural areas. In Australia we have a similar system in place in rural areas. However, looking to rely on this as a measure to markedly decrease the reliance on in-person healthcare is suspect.

While visual clues and interviews are important in assessing health concerns palpation, auscultation and the ability to have the patient in front of you make up much of both doctors’ and nurses’ assessments. Additionally, many presentations we see in hospital that have come from GPs requires further acute assessment not available in a doctor’s surgery: ultrasounds, CT scans, and urgent blood tests. These items would not be available to a patient sitting in their lounge room speaking with a doctor over the internet.

If there are chronic and stable conditions which only call for simple follow-up then online medical consultation would be fine. However, I wonder if that is not being done already? My concern is that moving forward the need for acute in-person healthcare will only increase. And with that increase will be the need for more acute beds in hospitals and more healthcare facilities to deal with demand.

Your thoughts?

References

IT Brief: Digital tech – the answer to Aussie healthcare’s biggest ailments?

Newcastle Herald: Australia about to lose top spot in this world health ranking

WHO: Australia