Highlighting the true plight of seniors and the shocking ill-treatment of many of them in residential care across Australia will lead to some good. Money from Canberra is already committed.
But steering the money into the right areas under independent expert guidance and with essential follow-up over years is altogether something else.
For many decades, successive governments of every political persuasion have heard the cries for help from the seniors’ sector but responses have only nibbled at the edges of meaningful, long-term reform.
It has taken the worst pandemic of our lives, plus a royal commission, to open the purse of the Federal and State Governments. For generations, we were told funds weren’t available, that the government vaults weren’t bottomless pits.
Now, miraculously, under political, legal and public pressure, bucketloads of dollars will be directed to seniors, including those with dementia who make up the majority of patients in residential care.
Where will the money go? Who will supervise its distribution once it leaves government banks, how much will go into carer numbers and training and who will ensure that patients finally get ongoing quality of care?
Ita Buttrose has long advocated an overhaul of care places to allow patients to live comfortably with proper care and support in environments more like being at home, rather than in cold, aseptic institutions where many are constantly over-drugged.
Television cook Maggie Beer recoiled at the food being served in residential care and, together with Professor Ralph Martins, produced a book of recipes that are imaginative, nutritious and are even designed to bring back some happy memories for dementia patients.
The issues for our seniors, a massively-growing segment of society, have been exposed like never before. Experts who have been crying in the wilderness are being heard. The time is ripe for reform and the money is promised.
Who is going to fan it along, to make sure the money is properly and carefully spent, to ensure carers in institutions get the message? Our seniors are individuals with different needs – especially dementia patients – they need listening to, they need individual care.
To have dedicated carers is a massive and expensive task, as is reform of regulation and policing.
Numbers of seniors are growing, numbers of dementia patients are also growing and the nation’s care bill is already in the billions of dollars.
Who’s going to look at the big picture? How can we encourage more seniors, including the many with dementia, to be kept at home where there will be far better understanding of their needs and families and friends will need to commit a great deal of time to them?
We have the expertise. We are at the forefront of world advances in dementia research.
Work by WA’s Professor Ralph Martins’ team has led to far earlier detection of Alzheimer’s – and it’s getting better – to ways of lowering risk of the disease, slowing its progress and perhaps prevention in some cases.
Diet, healthy lifestyle and adequate sleep play an important role. Professor Martins juggles his duties as Foundation Chair in Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University and on the other side of Australia, as Professor of Neurobiology at NSW’s Macquarie University.
New technology is available to allow for early detection – perhaps as early as 20 years before symptoms show – is available, but at a high cost.
These advances will help keep patient numbers down in care institutions, reduce the nation’s health costs and greatly assist in providing patient care so patients can stay longer at home.
These breakthroughs and the experience, efforts and advances by organisations including Alzheimer’s WA, as well as dementia authorities around Australia, set the scene for unprecedented reforms.
But how much say in the upcoming distribution of the hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money will our experts be given?
Professor Martins has managed to get WA just one piece of dementia early-detection technology through funding by Lions. This equipment, from overseas, costs hundreds of thousands apiece. And funding has dried-up.
The time for a panel of non-government, respected experts to draw-up a blueprint for care and support of Australia’s senior citizens, including the distribution of the largest amount of funding in our history, is now.