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New solutions for dementia care in the home

Photo: New solutions for dementia care in the home
A new program coming to South Australia and NSW will focus on improving the wellbeing of people living with dementia at home by giving them and their caregivers more solutions to daily challenges.

The COPE (Care of People with Dementia in their Environments) program, backed by aged-care organisations in both states, aims to support people to remain in their own home and maintain their independence longer.

The program involves nurses and occupational therapists with COPE training working closely with carers because “most people prefer to remain in their own homes for as long as possible”, says Flinders University dementia researcher Dr Kate Laver.

“People with dementia and their carers have called for services that focus on the capabilities of the person with dementia and maintaining independence,” says NHMRC-ARC research fellow Dr Laver.  
“Providing care for someone with dementia can be very challenging,” says Dr Laver, from the Rehabilitation, Aged and Extended Care research group at Flinders University in South Australia. 

“This research initiative brings a program to Australia which has been shown to be effective in delaying functional decline in the US.

“Carers who received this program in the US reported a great deal of improvement in their lives and that they were better able to manage the symptoms of dementia.”

Under consumer-directed care, government policy and funded services in Australia are now moving towards this approach in their home care packages by increasing choice and a focus on restorative care.

The rollout is part of the NHMRC Partnership Centre for Dealing with Cognitive and Related Functional Decline in Older People.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and there are currently more than 400,000 Australians living with dementia. An estimated 1.2 million people are involved in the care of a person with dementia. The number of Australians with dementia is expected to reach 1,100,890 by 2056.

Elements of the program are different for each person but may include: making small adjustments to the home environment, altering communication styles, structuring routines and engaging in activities that are enjoyable and meaningful for the person with dementia. 

Dr Laver says carers of people with dementia want information and support around effective options for managing symptoms of dementia.
“We are looking at how this program can be integrated into existing services,” says fellow Flinders COPE investigator Professor of Rehabilitation, Aged and Extended Care, Maria Crotty.

“The focus is on promoting independence and also supporting the carer to care for both themselves and the person with dementia.

“The program includes giving carers more information and training in caring for someone with dementia.”

The South Australian trial involves Griffith Rehabilitation Hospital, a 64-bed specialised rehabilitation hospital which provides best practice rehabilitation therapy for both in-patients and day rehabilitation patients. Griffith General Manager Sue Coe says the program offers patients access to research-backed information which can prove both timely and valuable for both carers and people going through the changes of dementia. 

Other investigators in the COPE project include Professor Lindy Clemson, Dr Justin Scanlan and Associate Professors Susan Kurrle, Lee Fay Low and Yun-Hee Jeon from the University of Sydney, Dr Tracy Comans from Griffith University, and COPE founder Professor Laura Gitlin from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, US.

For more information: Clinical Practice Guidelines and Principles of Care for People with Dementia in Australia.

With more than 353,800 Australians with dementia, with more than 1.2 million Australians involved in their care, the cost of dementia on the health and aged care systems is calculated to be at least $4.9 billion per annum.

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