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New training on homelessness and dementia


Dementia among the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless is one of six diverse groups featured in a series of national workshops getting underway this month.

The full day of workshops on dementia in diverse groups is being run by Dementia Training Australia with the first to take place in Brisbane on 21 November.

The dementia and homelessness workshop aims to provide an understanding of the most common forms of dementia associated with homelessness and help health professionals identify appropriate cognitive screening, support services, and gaps in services.

Across Australia in 2015-16, 22,000 people over 55 sought homelessness services, which was a 15 per cent increase from the previous year, said Professor Richard Fleming, executive director of Dementia Training Australia.

“This number is expected to rise further, and even more rapidly. Experts are warning of a looming crisis, with the impact of the baby boomer generation still not known,” he said.

University of NSW senior research fellow Dr Adrienne Withall said there was little research on this growing group of older people who are homeless.

“We believe about a third of them have significant cognitive impairment such that, if we were to see them, we would diagnose them as having dementia,” Dr Withall said.

Alcohol abuse, malnutrition and head injuries all increase the risk of dementia among older people who are homeless, she said.

Dr Withall has developed the dementia and homelessness workshop with DTA’s expert in environmental design, Kirsty Bennett.

Professor Fleming said there was a significant stigma surrounding homeless people and dementia.

“Many homeless people have a distrust of services, and many have backgrounds of trauma; 70 per cent have experienced abuse or neglect,” he said.

“Our workshop encourages health professionals to take time to hear a person’s story, to look for environmental and situational triggers, to understand that someone may use or abuse substances, and to know when it’s time to call in specialist help. And, most of all, to treat people with respect.”

More broadly, the training on the care of people with dementia from diverse groups aims to recognise that different groups of people with dementia have different and unique needs.

After Brisbane, the workshops will be repeated in other states from November 2017 to June 2018.

The diverse groups considered by the workshops are;

  • people with younger onset dementia
  • veterans
  • people who are homeless
  • people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI)
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

See DTA’s website for more information.

DTA is a consortium led by the University of Wollongong and consisting of Dementia Australia, La Trobe University, Queensland University of Technology, Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre (University of Tasmania) and the University of Western Australia that is funded by the Federal Government to provide dementia education and training across Australia.

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