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Australian's aged care residents trapped in a 'catch 22' due to COVID-19 restrictions

Australian's aged care residents trapped in a 'cat
Photo: Australian's aged care residents trapped in a 'catch 22' due to COVID-19 restric....
While the Australian Physiotherapist Association has welcomed new research that proves Australians want a better funded aged care system, the group has called for additional funds to be allocated towards allied health, particularly in light of the devastating repercussions COVID-19 restrictions have had on the elderly.

The Flinders University research, commissioned by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, also exposed widespread frustration at the lack of investment to improve the quality of life of older people.

Almost 90 per cent of participants agreed that the government should increase funding for aged care services, noting that the most important aspects of quality aged care services were treatment with respect and dignity, and receiving the health and wellbeing services they need.

“Older Australians’ quality of life is greatly enhanced by maintaining physical activity, key to which is strength and balance exercises that support independent movement and social activity,” says APA President Phil Calvert.
“Research shows falls are the leading cause of death in older people, and that tailored physiotherapy-led exercise programs can  reduce the number of falls in residential aged care by 55 per cent.

“Yet the current archaic funding model denies a quarter of residents access to physio, with the remainder unable to get the treatment they most need.”

The issue must be urgently addressed in light of the ‘catch-22’ that has resulted from COVID-19 restrictions, the APA told the Aged Care Royal Commission’s Impact of COVID-19 inquiry.

While necessary, COVID-19 social isolation, visitation restrictions and infection control measures have had the detrimental effect of accelerating physical, mental and cognitive decline in many cases, the APA told the inquiry.

APA Board Member and former chair of the APA’s Gerontology group, Rik Dawson, said the impact was already being seen among older people, with the number of life-threatening falls and other injuries occurring in residential aged care facilities, doubling.

Mr Dawson said the archaic residential Aged Care Funding Instrument, which has been widely dismissed an inefficient, severely limits both access to, and the type of, care older Australians can receive and must be amended urgently.

“The effects of COVID-19 on older people in residential aged care are disastrous, but there’s a simple solution - amend the funding model and provide urgent access to the type of care that’s desperately needed and wanted,” Mr Dawson said.

The APA said the solution was physical activity and exercise.

“Many older people are confined to their homes, rooms and wards for weeks on end and unable to do any exercise,” Mr Dawson said.

“Increased focus on infection control, COVID testing and post-testing isolation for healthcare workers and reduced or no visitation from family and friends are having tragic consequences.

“Without their usual support to get exercise and socialisation, the condition of older people is deteriorating to a point that it could become irreversible or fatal.”

Mr Calvert said the APA had long been frustrated about the constrictions placed on physiotherapy funding in aged care settings.

“Passive pain management techniques are not effective,” he said.

“The government needs to come to the party and adequately fund what works, and that is evidence-based movement classes that lead to stronger, happier and more confident older Australians.

“Surely we owe them that much?”

“Notwithstanding the current lockdown circumstances that have limited access by outside staff, the sooner we get these programs funded and rolled out the better off people living in residential aged care will be, both physically and mentally.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.