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Still ‘a lot of work to be done’ in care for seniors

The contribution Michael Woodward has made to aged care was celebrated yesterday as he was named a Member of the Order of Australia, but the eminent geriatrician says a “number of frontiers” in the specialty remain.

Among almost 830 Australians who received awards as part of the 2016 Australia Day Honours List, Associate Professor Michael Woodward was recognised for his service to geriatric medical research, aged care and Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently the head of aged care research, the wound management clinic and the memory clinic at Austin Health, Associate Professor Woodward said he had seen significant change and improvement in his 30 plus years in geriatric medicine.

Associate Professor Michael Woodward

Associate Professor Michael Woodward

But there remained “a number of frontiers,” Dr Woodward told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. We still haven’t cured dementia. We have many people walking around Australia with chronic wounds that are often poorly managed. We have problems with the overuse and the under use of appropriate medications in older people,” he said.

Further, while there was now broad recognition of the need to have better aged care within the hospital system, he said there was still a tendency for the aged care ward to be the “poor country cousin.”

“We’ll know that geriatric medicine in Australia has come of age when we build a new hospital and we have the same facilities and same new wards for the geriatric medicine unit as we do for cardiology or for gastroenterology,” he said.

“We need more advocacy for the elderly by doctors, health professionals and administrators. We also need more demand from older people themselves; older people should not accept being treated as second-rate patients – they need to be advocates.”

However, Associate Professor Woodward noted that unlike when he began his own career, geriatric medicine was now one of the most popular specialities for medical trainees.

One of the key frontiers he noted was dementia, one of his main clinical research areas. Over the course of his career Dr Woodward, who currently sits on the board of Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria, has helped to define the frontal variant of Alzheimer’s disease.

While dementia has “come out of the closet” in recent years in that there was far less stigma around the condition, more work was needed in its prevention, treatment and diagnosis. It was his aim to develop drugs to prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer’s in those who were predisposed, and Dr Woodward said he was undertaking clinical trials in this area at Austin Hospital.

As the past president of the Australian Wounds Management Association, he listed government subsidisation of chronic wound treatments and dressings as another goal.

“If you have an ulcer on the inside of your stomach, you get everything covered by the government. If you get an ulcer on your skin, you’re on your own,” he said.

Associate Professor Woodward also works on a number of immunisation bodies, and continued his previous calls for a whole-of-life approach to vaccination, including an adult vaccination registry.

Other sector leaders honoured

Consultant and chair of South East Palliative Care, Diane Sullivan, was also awarded an AM yesterday. Ms Sullivan is a member of the government’s residential aged care panel and a former director of Benetas’ clinical government committee.

Former director of Rice Village Aged Care and Mercy Health and Aged Care (Victoria), Sister Kathleen Tierney, was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

Ann Robilotta-Glenister, chair of Leading Aged Services Australia’s Gold Coast and Southern Region and Hopewell Hospice Services, was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her service to aged care and the community.

GP and author of ABC of Residential Care, Maureen McCluskey, was named an OAM, as was Edith Fairlie of Blue Care Master’s Lodge Aged Care Facility.

IRT Group chief executive Nieves Murray was awarded Wollongong Citizen of the Year at Wollongong City Council Australia Day awards. The council awarded Ms Murray for the contributions she has made through her work at IRT and with local charities, and her role as an active member of the business community.

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