The aged care sector could have been more proactive in preventing and stopping COVID from entering aged care homes, an international dementia conference has heard.

A panel of aged care and dementia experts from across the globe shared their perspectives of how their nations are coping with COVID and the lessons learned so far at the International Dementia Conference on Monday.

The panel agreed on the need to learn on the go due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

Professor Chris Poulos, head of HammondCare’s research and aged care clinical services, said Australia could have been more proactive in preventing the spread of COVID in aged care homes.

“We should’ve known earlier that we should’ve been restricting staff working across more than one care home. And yet we were a bit late to the game with that,” Professor Poulos told the conference.

“Even though we’ve had that big second wave in Melbourne, we did have two significant outbreaks in Sydney… maybe we should have been more on the front foot,” he said. “There were absolutely lessons there.”

From left: Professor Chris Poulos and panel chair Leigh Hatcher

The nation could have also been better prepared by having better stockpiles of personal protective equipment, he said.

COVID impact around the world

Professor Wilco Achterberg

Elsewhere, panel members discussed how poor communication, shortages of PPE and being unprepared meant COVID-19 severely impacted aged care in their nations.

Despite the Netherlands having good care systems, it was struck very hard by COVID, said Professor Wilco Achterberg, elder care physician and medical advisor at aged care provider Topaz Leiden.

“Over half of the deaths in COVID patients are nursing home patients and that’s because… maybe we had a problem… with long-term care [and]… giving care close to patients,” Professor Achterberg said.

“We know that we did not have storage of PPE, we had a shortage of mouth pieces, [and] of all kinds of things necessary for good care. We were struck very hard. A lot of patients were affected and also a lot of staff. We had a shortage of communication about good care evidence-based care,” he said.

Professor June Andrews

The United Kingdom was slow to recognise what was occurring with the pandemic, said Professor June Andrews, a dementia expert and fellow of the Royal College of Nursing.

“When we saw what was happening through television… people on the floors of hospitals and other parts of Europe like Spain and Italy, there was a big rush to make sure that we didn’t have that kind of thing in the acute hospitals in the UK,” Professor Andrews said.

To cater for the extra capacity, pop-up hospitals were built and anybody that didn’t need to be in hospital very quickly left, she said.

“That meant… mainly older people, mainly with cognitive impairment as part of the diagnosis; a lot of those people were rushed out of hospital and into other settings, such as care homes. And it was good for them to go to care homes, because that’s where they should’ve been, but the problem was the flow,” she said.

“Too many had been waiting too long in hospital and had to be moved very suddenly and all the things that you would do to make a nice smooth safe transition were not… possible. So, it wasn’t just that COVID testing wasn’t possible, but explanations, family support, all the rest of it, weren’t possible,” she said.

She said the majority of deaths in the early stages of COVID were residents in aged care, which created social dread around aged care homes.

The panellists agreed that even though these kind of global pandemics do not occur often, it is important to be better prepared for them because they will continue to happen.

The International Dementia Conference took place on 21 – 22 September.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the article. a small comment. I appreciate that there would have been unique challenges due to COVID 19 pandemic, however it would be worth reflecting if our experiences also indicated areas that we could improve on as part on ongoing “normal” care, ongoing “normal” accountability, responsibility, transparency.

    “The panellists agreed that even though these kind of global pandemics do not occur often, it is important to be better prepared for them because they will continue to happen”

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