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The Chair of Dementia Australia has called for a transformation in care delivery for people with dementia while presenting a three-pronged roadmap for quality care at  the National Press Club in Canberra today (14 April).

Emphasising dementia support pathways, building workforce capacity and dementia-friendly design, Professor Graham Samuel AC wove both personal anecdotes (his late mother lived with dementia) and statistical figures to make the case for structural reform of the country’s dementia care processes.

The formation of National Comprehensive Dementia Centres, a centralised telephone and online support service, virtual reality education and the establishment of ‘dementia-friendly’ guidelines were among several of the ideas Professor Samuel mentioned as part of the Dementia Australia Roadmap to Quality Dementia Care.

While Professor Samuel said many of the proposed changes could be acted on urgently, he cautioned that broader sectoral change in areas such as in aged care may require a longer-term engagement, suggesting that a “holistic plan” was needed for the next decade and beyond.

“If our Roadmap to Quality Dementia Care is adopted and implemented, most of the activity will take place in the first three years, but changing the culture of aged care will take time,” Professor Samuel said.

“Embedding continuous improvement processes specific to dementia, transforming the regulatory, legislative and policy environment, as well as building education and workforce pathways and communities of practice, are all important components of the sector transformation that is needed.”

Professor Samuel also drew attention to the importance of academic research, building dementia-friendly communities and improving the quality of care as broad priorities for the sector, highlighting the diverse number of experiences that sit within the dementia umbrella.

“There are more than 100 conditions that cause dementia,” Professor Samuel explained.

“In 2021, there are an estimated half a million people living with dementia in Australia and around 1.6 million people involved in their care. That number is expected to triple by 2050 unless there is a medical breakthrough.

“[…] But it doesn’t only affect older people – currently over 30,000 Australians under the age of 65 have younger onset dementia.”

When addressing the findings of the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Professor Samuel described the reported treatment of Australia’s aged population within aged care homes as “disgraceful”.

“The final report captures the essence of the personal experiences entrusted to the Commissioners by people living with dementia, their families and carers. Their final report demonstrates that the Commissioners have listened,” Professor Samuel said.

“Quality dementia care needs to become an intrinsic, core element of aged care in Australia. A strategic priority for every provider needs to be a commitment to providing quality dementia care that is clearly demonstrated in all elements of the provider’s strategic and business plans.”

Ultimately, while Professor Samuel began and concluded mentioning the experiences of his family, who cared for his late mother, he made clear that the reform he and Dementia Australia were advocating for wasn’t just about family members or friends but an issue for everyone.

“Remember this is not only about them – it is also about what the future holds for you and me,” Professor Samuel said.

Professor Samuel’s complete speech can be read at the Dementia Australia website.