Retirement villages must make strategic decision about dementia: peak

The prevalence of people living with dementia in retirement villages is predicted to rise but recent research shows the sector’s response to dementia varies widely, resulting in the development of a new guide for operators.

The prevalence of people living with dementia in retirement villages is predicted to rise but recent research shows the sector’s response to dementia varies widely, resulting in the development of a guide for operators.

Most retirement villages were not traditionally developed to support older people with progressive conditions such as dementia, but in recent years the average age of residents has risen to 81 – an age at which someone has around a one in eight chance of developing dementia. In addition, the number of Australians living in retirement villages – currently around 200,000 – is forecast to double by 2025.

Given that dementia prevalence was likely on the rise in retirement living, first-of-its-kind research, conducted by Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, the IRT Foundation and the Retirement Living Council, has looked at how well retirement villages supported ageing in place for people with dementia.

It found that as villages were hugely varied in operating model, scope and design, there were also large variations in the types of support and services on offer for people with dementia, as well as levels of staff training on the issue.

From a consumer perspective, the research also found there were often misconceptions about what services and levels of support retirement villages were able to provide, and the distinction between a residential aged care facility and a retirement village not always well understood.

Brendan Moore, researcher and general manager of policy, research and information at Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, told Australian Ageing Agenda that the issue of dementia was something retirement living providers cannot ignore.

Brendan Moore
Brendan Moore

“You have a sector that has prided itself on marketing and delivering independent living, but I don’t think that they can continue to just be bricks and mortar,” he said. “By and large, the sector needs to respond to this in the near future… They’re a really important part of the housing and, we believe, care solution for older Australians in the future.”

Mr Moore stressed villages must make a strategic decision about whether they will support people with dementia to age in place or not. Further, once the decision was made, it needed to be all-encompassing and permeate all facets of the business, right down to sales and marketing.

“We believe that once you make that decision, yes or no, you need to then incorporate that into your organisational strategy, your philosophy, your operating model and into the facets of what you do as a retirement village,” he said.

To help operators in their decision-making, Mr Moore will launch a dementia guide at the upcoming National Retirement Living Summit.

Mr Moore said people with dementia had a right to live independently, and should a village choose to offer support services, this must underpin their care approach and response. There were already good examples of operators taking on a service-integrated housing approach, incorporating community care services into their villages, he said. Others may wish to partner with a community care provider, broker services, or even start up care services of their own – something Mr Moore predicts there will be greater scope to do when the market is liberalised in 2017.

Partnering or co-locating with a residential aged care facility would also give people with dementia peace of mind about ageing in place, and was beneficial for partners and carers who could stay on site with their loved one, he said.

Mr Moore said staff also need training on how to recognise dementia and its progression, and to be clear that a diagnosis of dementia did not automatically mean people had to move into residential care.

If operators chose not to support people with dementia, it was important that they made this clear in their marketing and had screening measures in place to assess people’s health and care needs, Mr Moore said. Further, if people developed dementia while in the village, such operators then needed to have a robust process to support people to move on to a residential aged care facility.

Mr Moore said one of the biggest barriers for operators to become dementia-friendly may be the fear and stigma attached to dementia by other village residents, and it was vital that operators work with them on their journey.

“There’s a clear role for the retirement village operators to have a conversation with their village residents, to consult with them, to understand whether it’s amenable to them, to outline ‘it may be you in the future, it may be someone you love it, it could be a close friend in the village’,” he said.

Dementia Guide for the Australian Retirement Village Industry will be launched at the National Retirement Living Summit, which takes place from 23 to 25 November in Brisbane.

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Tags: alzheimers-australia-nsw, dementia, IRT Foundation, retirement-living-council,

1 thought on “Retirement villages must make strategic decision about dementia: peak

  1. I hate seeing patients with this mental illness, sitting alone in their drab nursing home rooms, all alone. Educate people about this disease. They are still human beings regardless. There is such a stigma attached to this disease.

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