Better training the key to improving dementia care, says expert

Date: 19/07/2009

The quality of life for thousands of Australians with dementia will improve following the release of a new study which builds a framework for training carers to identify the stages of the disease and better assess individual needs.

The study by Professor Esther Chang, a leading researcher from the University of Western Sydney School of Nursing and Midwifery, will be one of several to be discussed at a dementia care conference at UWS on Monday 20 July.

Local and international health professionals will be joined at the conference by Federal Minister for Ageing, The Hon. Justine Elliot MP, prominent carer and advocate Sue Pieters-Hawke and Alzheimer's Australia NSW CEO The Hon. John Watkins.

The conference will focus on the need for a collaborative approach to dementia care and improving the knowledge of best practice by carers and health professionals alike.

Professor Chang says the challenges in dementia care are particularly demanding and complex, but not insurmountable.

A recently completed study by Professor Chang, with colleagues in Partnership with Sydney West Area Health Service and Blue Mountains Division of General Practice, has provided a decision-making framework of support that includes guidelines for nurses to assist people in residential aged care facilities.

Four major symptoms were targeted - pain, constipation, weight loss and agitation/confusion. These symptoms have been recognised as particularly reducing the quality of life of people with advanced dementia and as being difficult for the primary care providers to treat.

"The new framework will enhance the level of care for people with dementia and increase the competence and confidence of carers, including health professionals such as assistants in nursing and registered nurses," says Professor Chang.

Participants in the study included palliative care, aged care and dementia specialist nurses, medical specialists from an area health service, residential aged care staff and general medical practitioners.

The research identified the need for more accurate assessment, especially of pain and weight loss, because people with advanced dementia are unable to communicate their symptoms.

Managing physical and behavioural symptoms and communicating with family presented further challenges according to the health professionals in the study.

"The study confirms the need for a palliative approach to care in advanced dementia," says Professor Chang.

Professor Chang has previously developed a guide on advanced dementia for professional, community and family carers, which provides details on the progression and symptoms of the disease and options for care.

For further details on the study and to download a copy of the framework for health professionals, visit:

WHAT: "Creating successful dementia care - A multidisciplinary approach" conference
WHEN: Monday 20 July (Keynote speeches from 09:00hrs, Sue Pieters-Hawke at 14:00hrs)
WHERE: University of Western Sydney Parramatta campus, cnr James Ruse Drive and Victoria Road, Rydalmere

A full program for the conference is available from:

Media are welcome to attend - contact the UWS Media Unit for details.



Senior Media Officer

Paul Grocott
02 9678 7083, 0406 429 304