Calls for national aged care pandemic response plan after research reveals toll of COVID-19 on people living with dementia and carers

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The Federal Government needs to develop a plan that recognises the importance of families being able to visit relatives in aged care, according to a new discussion paper by the University of Sydney and Dementia Australia.

The 36-page paper – titled ‘One day the support was gone’ – looks at the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on people living with dementia, families and carers.

The researchers found the lack of human contact due to lockdown restrictions contributed to the deteriorations in the health of many aged care residents – and makes 14 recommendations including:

  • Extending infection control measures and training to carers so that essential visits may be maintained should crisis or emergency measures need to be reinstated;
  • Undertaking independent checks on residential aged care facility ‘lockdowns’ to ensure they are for as brief as reasonably possible to contain an immediate risk, according to government and health officer advice and maintain delivery of quality care
  • Risk profiling for people living with dementia, their families and carers receiving aged care services be undertaken to identify particularly vulnerable groups requiring additional support;
  • Ensuring adequate numbers of staff, with the right skills mix, are available to allow continued visits to people living with dementia in residential aged care by their families and friends.

Dementia Australia is also advocating for a national aged care pandemic response to ensure that both further outbreaks are prevented and the mental, emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of people living with dementia is protected.

“A nationally consistent response to COVID-19 and any future pandemics by the Australian Government, which includes a plan to support aged care providers to deliver quality care and minimise the mental health impact of pandemic responses, must be made a priority,” CEO Maree McCabe said.

“It is imperative that aged care, health, allied health and disability systems communicate effectively and work collaboratively to support the mental health and wellbeing of people living with dementia, their families and carers.”

The recommendation for a national aged care pandemic response plan was contained in the Royal Commission’s special COVID report – but the Aged Care Minister, Senator Richard Colbeck has maintained the Federal Government already had a plan for aged care as part of the national pandemic response.

With the Government due to report on its progress on the report’s six recommendations by next Tuesday, 1 December, expect to hear more on this issue.

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