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New service to assist retirement village operators with dementia support

With the number of people living with dementia in retirement villages expected to increase as people elect to age in place, a new collaboration aims to give operators practical assistance in developing supports.

Last year, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW conducted first-of-its-kind research into how well village operators supported ageing in place for residents with dementia. It found large variations in support, services and staff training, reflecting the industry’s diverse nature.

The peak body subsequently released a guide for operators to assist on operational decisions related to dementia.

However, in a step further, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW has now partnered with consultancy firm One Fell Swoop to together conduct dementia-friendly audits of villages, through a paid service currently being piloted.

Andrew Fleming, One Fell Swoop director, ageing and living, said while the guide offered useful direction, the decision to create the current program was born out of recognition villages could need additional resources and skills to implement its recommendations.

Dr Andrew Fleming

Dr Andrew Fleming

As the retirement living sector had been traditionally focused on independent living, the development of support services had often been overlooked or operators were unaware of community resources they could use, he said.

“Village operators need to have a process whereby they can engage people to assist them,” he told Australian Ageing Agenda ahead of his presentation at tomorrow’s Aged and Community Services NSW & ACT Seniors Housing and Retirement Living Symposium.

Dr Fleming said the service aimed to help operators to identify the needs of their own particular village in relation to dementia, and enable them with a strategy to move forward.

“Part of that will be to assist organisations in terms of understanding what support services they can engage to assist their residents to remain as independent as possible,” he said.

The first stage in the program is a site visit, where a ‘situational analysis’ of the village is conducted. Focus groups are held with the management and staff, as well as residents and family members, to determine what is working well, the challenges, levels of understanding and education, and supports on offer. There is also an environmental review of accommodation and grounds to assess dementia-friendliness and wayfinding, and examination of the organisation’s policies, procedures and promotional information in relation to dementia.

The organisation will then receive a report identifying the issues that are affecting that particular village, with recommendations and consultation on how to become more dementia friendly.

Where villages need assistance

While the site audit process is still in the process of being refined, Dr Fleming said there have been interesting findings from the pilot so far, many of which back up those found in Alzheimer’s Australia NSW’s original research.

Most striking, he said, was the “real appetite” from both staff and residents for increased education on dementia support. For example, many residents reported they knew other people in the village who had some form of dementia and wanted to assist them.

“There has certainly been a lot of interest from the residents and their family members to learn more about dementia because it is affecting them right in the here and now,” said Dr Fleming.

Similarly, Dr Fleming said they had found staff education and awareness around dementia was often minimal, and there were also often few policies and procedures in place.

Even if a village made a policy decision not to admit residents with dementia, Dr Fleming said it was important the operator had robust screening on entry to a village, ensuring it could identify people whose care needs were inappropriate for the setting.

Likewise, procedures and staff education were important for supporting people during their residence and identifying when they may need to transition to a higher level of care.

“It’s very much about providing an end-to end service,” said Dr Fleming. “That’s part of the work we want to be able to assist villages with, to help them to manage the entry process, exit processes and the support levels in between.”

To find out more, visit the One Fell Swoop website.

The Aged and Community Services NSW & ACT Seniors Housing and Retirement Living Symposium will take place in Sydney tomorrow.

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