Chair of Alzheimer’s Disease International Glenn Rees says he fears the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will not work well to deliver dementia care.

Dedicated government funding to provide specialist services and a national dementia framework are both needed to ensure people with dementia are not disadvantaged as aged care becomes increasingly deregulated, the chair of Alzheimer’s Disease International has warned.

Glenn Rees
Glenn Rees

While it was positive that the most recent proposals for further aged care reform characterised dementia care as “core business” throughout the system, advocates had worked hard for essential government-funded specialist supports and initiatives, said Glenn Rees, chair of ADI and former CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia.

“There is a recognition that older people with dementia have the same rights as other people but may require additional support to exercise choice and access services… the language worries me because the unkind might interpret ‘may require’ narrowly,” Mr Rees told the Strengthening Dementia Services conference on Wednesday.

“While qualifiers are placed in the rhetoric about the market, for example the need to protect the vulnerable and for good information, I have the suspicion that there is unwarranted faith in the market to solve all problems. The invisible hand will not I fear work that well in dementia care,” said Mr Rees.

Relying on a market in aged care to drive quality improvement was unrealistic as purchasing aged care services was fundamentally different from other consumer purchases, and people are making decisions at a point of crisis and usually do not have the full information, he said.

It was critical that sector stakeholders sought a commitment from government to deliver much of the infrastructure needed for services that deliver social activities and respite, Mr Rees said.

“There is also a need for dedicated additional funding to support short-term stays in special dementia units for people experiencing extreme behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.”

Renewed call for dementia strategy

Mr Rees said there was much to support in the Aged Care Roadmap’s vision for a single aged care, but this must be done carefully if consumers were to be protected.

To improve the quality of dementia services within the roadmap’s vision, a national dementia strategy was needed, as well as funding for new models of care for people with dementia, he said.

A national strategy should commit to targets, measures, timeframes and funding to action the seven priority areas that were previously outlined in National Dementia Framework, he said.

“Market signals and knowing more about decisions consumers would make given the choice are an important input to policy and efficient service delivery. But good intentions on dementia care will fail without a strategy,” he said.

He said there was now a gap in government policy on dementia risk reduction, and he criticised the termination of funding for the Your Brain Matters.

“[It] was a great disappointment – such an inexpensive and positive way to promote greater awareness of the condition and possibly to reduce risk,” said Mr Rees.

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  1. This highlights a fundamental flaw in the current push for market driven consumer choice.

    In a ideal free market, consumers have access to all the information needed to make informed choices. They also have the ability to enter and exit the market as they desire. The frail elderly are rarely in a position to exercise these rights.

    The current design might work well for empowered, tech-savvy and able-bodied individuals but there will be many who will fall through the cracks.

  2. Thanks to Glenn Rees for stating this obvious problem with a market based approach to dementia care.
    It is clear that market response will be restrictive and not offer a range of options to support and educate families.

  3. We must have a dementia strategy put in place. I was pleased to view Ita Buttrose talking about the obvious need for a strategy because the rate of dementia in Australia is growing exponentially. Unfortunately the Government has taken away funding in this area of care. The Government is pushing for an American style of for profit – seeks only to line the pockets of share holders. For profit organisations will strip the core out of caring. I’ve already seen it when working with one organisation. Care shifts were decreased in time and staff where given extra loads. Care staff were exhausted and unable to spend that little extra time with and for the resident. That is why we work in Care – for the residents – thats our core business. Many staff felt victimised, often took on another job as well, and many left. The impact on residents and staff was enormous. A Dementia strategy should be put in place immediately, after all its talked about for at least 5 years that I am aware of.

  4. We who work at the coalface can see exactly what will happen, however in this drive to “Americanise” the system, the government does not seem to care. “The Market” does not do everything better, in fact the financial costs of privatising our health system will be horrendous, we just have to look at the USA as a perfect example.
    I fear for the people with Dementia and their carers, as they will be left carrying the burden, (as usual). It is Governments role to look after its citizens, its role is NOT to privatise everything, otherwise, why do we need Governments.

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