Three in five residential aged care staff are aware of dementia-specific support services but less than half of these staff accessed the services, a Deakin University study has found.
The study, published in the September edition of the Australasian Journal on Ageing, aimed to understand staff awareness and engagement with dementia-specific support services and education.
It involved a survey of 179 aged care home staff including registered and enrolled nurses and personal care and lifestyle assistants from 36 facilities in Victoria.
The study found 60 per cent of aged care staff were aware of dementia-specific support services, such as Dementia Support Australia’s Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service and Severe Behaviour Response Teams, Dementia Australia and the National Dementia Helpline.
However, only 45 per cent of these staff and 24 per cent overall accessed support services within the last two years.
More than a third of these staff accessed dementia-specific support services in their own time (38 per cent), the study found.
Lead researcher Alfred Deakin Professor Alison Hutchinson said the findings showed poor uptake of the dementia support services available to staff.
“It was pretty clear that some people were accessing support services… but clearly, a lot of people were not accessing support services at all,” Professor Hutchinson told Australian Ageing Agenda.
The study also found that just over three quarters of staff were aware of dementia-specific education, such as Dementia Training Australia and the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre’s Massive Open Online Course (77 per cent).
Of these people, 84 per cent had completed dementia-specific education in the last two years.
Professor Hutchinson said the proportion of staff accessing dementia-specific support and education should be higher.
“We should be seeing closer to 100 per cent,” said Professor Hutchinson, a professor of nursing at Deakin University and chair in nursing at Monash Health.
“In residential aged care, over 50 per cent of residents are living with dementia, and to varying degrees. And all staff really need to understand dementia.
“They need to understand how to communicate with people with dementia and they also need to be able to access resources to get support when they’re encountering quite challenging circumstances around people with dementia.
Earlier this week Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe told AAA that educating aged care workers about dementia was critical to addressing discrimination in care settings.
Professor Hutchinson said the difference between the awareness and the uptake of some of these opportunities was surprising.
It points to a lack of access to dementia-support services and education, which is an important issue, Professor Hutchinson said.
“It is important for people particularly in rural and regional areas as well because they aren’t able necessarily to go to a training program face-to-face,” she said.
Professor Hutchinson said more work was needed to enable and facilitate access to dementia support services and education for aged care staff.
Providers should allow their staff to undertake training during work hours, she said.
“It’s clearly very challenging with shortages of staff… but facilitating and enabling that is probably a key role that aged care providers can play or providing in-house education as well,” Professor Hutchinson said.
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