Providing end-of-life dementia care is rewarding but full of challenges including having to help family members accept that their loved one is dying, a study of aged care managers has found.

The study, published in BMC Geriatrics, explored the experiences and perspectives of 20 residential care managers at 11 aged care homes in New South Wales and Victoria of dementia specialists HammondCare.

It found that continuous skill development of frontline staff, iterative family discussions, and partnership building between aged care staff and general practitioners are required for optimal end-of-life dementia care in aged care homes.

Senior researcher on the study Professor Josephine Clayton said the study found that aged care managers found delivering end-of-life dementia care relentless but rewarding.

“Staff are really passionate and committed about providing good end-of-life care for the residents but they did however experience a number of challenges in delivering that,” Professor Clayton told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Professor Josephine Clayton

Other themes identified in the research include the need to lay the groundwork to establish what families understand about dementia, play peacemaker in the face of unrealistic family demands and expectations such as for medical intervention and chip away at denial and cultivate a path towards acceptance of death.

“Families and even some staff didn’t necessarily think of about dementia as a life limiting or terminal condition, so there was a need for a constant education around that, which can be confronting for families,” said Professor Clayton director of HammondCare’s Centre for Learning and Research in Palliative Care.

“And because the residents at our facilities usually have lost the capacity to make decisions for themselves, it’s very much around the staff communicating regularly with the family members about what the person would have wanted,” Professor Clayton said.

The need to support and strengthen staff and befriend GPs comfortable with providing palliative care were the other themes identified in the study.

“Sometimes it might be junior staff who might not have experienced this death in their own life and it can be confronting for them to have to deal with death and dying. And so there was a need for constant education and support for the frontline staff,” she said.

“Some GPs were very uncomfortable with prescribing medications that might be needed to ensure a person can be in comfort at the end of life, or they might have an attitude of ‘oh something changed, go to hospital’, which was not what the family or the person would have wanted,” Professor Clayton said.

While addressing the barriers is “not just a simple fix,” it is positive that the aged care royal commission has highlighted some of these challenges, Professor Clayton said.

“There needs to be an investment in funds and education to support our frontline staff and to enable them to have those regular communications to support families,” she said.

Aged care staff and GPs also need to be rewarded and paid appropriately to attract the right people into the sector, Professor Clayton said.

“There’s a number of wonderful, dedicated GPs out there who do visit nursing homes, but for some of them is just not practical for their business to be able to come to nursing homes because it’s a lot of travel back and forth for that visit and they may not be appropriately remunerated, she said.

Access “A good death but there was all this tension around”- perspectives of residential managers on the experience of delivering end of life care for people living with dementia.

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