Dementia care severely lacking

Thursday 29th January 2015 - Deborah Condon , View Article Here

Almost 90% of nursing homes in Ireland have no dedicated dementia care units, despite the increasing number of people living with this condition, a major new survey has found.

According to a new report based on the survey findings, dementia is currently ‘one of the biggest challenges facing global healthcare and health economies'.

Around 48,000 people in Ireland have dementia and this figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, yet little information on the state of dementia care nationally is available. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) decided to survey the country's nursing homes to see what dementia services they offered.

Just over 600 nursing homes were approached to take part and almost eight in 10 participated. However among these, just 54 (11%) stated that they offered dementia-specific care in specialist care units (SCUs). In other countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, some 33% of nursing homes offer this type of care.

The survey also revealed that SCUs have developed in ‘an arbitrary, fragmented and uncoordinated manner', with half of all SCUs located in just five counties and some counties, including Sligo, Carlow and Kilkenny, offering no specialist provision at all.

Meanwhile, the average number of residents with dementia living in SCUs was 19, ‘a figure way in excess of best practice norms'.

For people waiting for admission to an SCU, there were big variations depending on the location, with waiting times particularly long in Leinster where there are far fewer SCUs.

The survey also found that over 60% of specialist dementia services were provided by private nursing homes, yet the private sector received significantly less funding for the care of older people from the National Treatment and Purchase Fund.

Furthermore, private nursing homes were more likely to report that all staff had received specialist dementia training. In HSE-operated facilities, just one-third of staff were specially trained.

The report stated that ‘a new funding model is required if the private sector is to be further incentivised, with more funding allocated to private nursing homes in recognition of the specialist services needed to support people with dementia'.

"Of some concern is the fact that only 11% of all the Irish facilities surveyed have dedicated dementia units and, despite an expected increase in demand for long-term dementia care arising as a result of population ageing, only a small minority of Irish nursing homes intend opening dementia units," said the report's lead author, Associate Prof Suzanne Cahill, of TCD.

Commenting on the findings, Tadhg Daly, CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, said that this survey should act as an ‘eye-opener' for the Government and various policy stakeholders.

"We wholeheartedly welcome the research findings that the complex and high-dependency needs of persons with dementia need to be realistically reflected in better resource allocation," he added.

The report, An Irish National Survey of Dementia in Long-Term Residential Care, was launched in TCD.

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