A project is underway to assist aged care providers strengthen their policies on client consent and supported decision-making after new research has highlighted significant gaps.

The study by researchers from the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre found organisational policies were typically unclear and offered minimal guidance to staff on areas such as assessing the decision-making capacity of a person with dementia or defining the role of a substitute decision-maker.

The research involved a detailed analysis of policies from seven aged care providers, as well as follow-up interviews with staff.

The policy documents were also reviewed against the national decision-making principles proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

While a number of the policies supported the idea of supported decision-making in principle, guidance for staff on how to support a client’s ability to make decisions was scant, said Dr Craig Sinclair from the University of Western Australia’s Medical School and a member of the research team.

Supported decision-making aims to assist people with cognitive impairment to stay involved in decision-making about their healthcare, and is an alternative model to using a substitute decision-maker.

Dr Sinclair said the study showed aged care providers could be missing opportunities to develop “robust policies” to support the autonomy of their clients.

“With the shifts towards consumer-directed aged care, reviews of state, territory and Commonwealth guardianship legislation, and growing attention on supported decision-making, it is timely for aged care providers to review their policies in this area,” he told Australian Ageing Agenda.

The project is also aiming to shed light on the organisational barriers to implementing supported decision-making and perceptions among staff and consumers.

Based on the results of this study, the research team is currently developing a range of practical resources to help guide organisations on their policies on consent, decision-making, and assessing capacity.

The tools include a self-audit tool for self-assessing their current policies and an interactive case study for use with staff.

The resource is in the final stages of completion and will be available on the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre website.

The project is led by the University of WA and partners are Helping Hand, Brightwater Care Group, Hammond Care, Dementia Australia, University of Technology Sydney, Western Sydney University and University of Sydney.

Dr Craig Sinclair will present on the study’s research findings at the 50th AAG Conference in Perth on 9 November.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG conference.

Interested providers can contact craig.sinclair@uwa.edu.au for more information on the project’s resource.

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