Aged care providers are partnering with unversities on a $3 million collaboration that aims to maximise the independence, health and wellbeing of people living with dementia in residential aged care.

The five-year project led by University of Sydney will see researchers work with dementia and aged care sector peaks to implement person-centred reablement support for aged care residents with dementia.

Government body the National Health and Medical Research Council has awarded the research project $1.2 million. Co-contributions from aged care providers HammondCare, Bolton Clarke, Calvary and Whiddon and provider and consumer peaks Leading Age Services Australia and Dementia Australia pushes the project funding beyond $3 million.

Reablement programs involve setting goals and strategies to help people maintain or improve their independence and quality of life. People with dementia have traditionally been regarded unsuitable for rehabilitation programs because of the progressive nature of the condition.

However, chief investigator Professor Yun-Hee Jeon said pilot studies prove that reablement programs can be effective for people living with dementia in the community. “We know that people will progressively decline, but when we offer a reablement or rehabilitation intervention, people can actually have independence for some time,” Professor Jeon told Australian Ageing Agenda. “We can’t stop the progression, but the rate of decline is a lot slower.”

Professor Yun-Hee Jeon

Professor Jeon has been working – nationally and internationally – for the past 10 years to bring reablement programs into the aged care sector. “We can’t give up because it is too difficult, we need to find a solution by working together with the key stakeholders, everyone – industry partners, people with dementia and families, and the workforce – to come up with a reasonable solution to deliver this type of program,” said Professor Jeon, the Susan and Isaac Wakil Professor of Healthy Ageing at Sydney University.

The research team will include leading experts in nursing, speech pathology, neuropsychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dietetics, geriatric medicine, health economics and policy development from the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and Monash University.

A major trial to gauge the cost-effectiveness of implementing reablement programs in aged care settings will conclude in a couple of months. The key goal is to preserve the independence of people living with dementia, Professor Jeon said. “Physical, social, psychological and emotional independence … no matter where they are at with their disease progression.”

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