Responding to the person: Dementia behaviour support and beyond

Bethany Kings (National Program Manager), Marie Alford (Head of Dementia Professional Services)

DSA Dementia Support Australia

They say change is inevitable, and also that change can be slow. That is, until there is a crisis. We have seen how the impetus of a pandemic and aged care reform has challenged the pace of change and has pushed us to creatively adapt processes, communication channels, systems and funding mechanisms to meet the immediate health demands.

Dementia Support Australia (DSA) is not immune to this change as we seek to support a sector in flux. One strength of the service is our ability to pivot in response to the surrounding landscape. Whilst our core business is to support people living with dementia where behaviour impacts care, the way this is undertaken has evolved since the inception of DSA in 2016.

At the beginning of COVID-19, access to residential care homes was limited. However, with a cocktail of reduced visitation, changed routines, staff in masks, goggles, gowns and gloves, and constantly changing staff, the need for DSA support only grew. Out of this came the Dementia Engagement Modelling Program (DEMP) and greater utilisation of our brokerage services. Engagement continues to be a core focus within our work.

With the implementation of Royal Commission recommendations came the strengthening of behaviour support plans and an overdue focus on reducing restrictive practices. The sector needed guidance but, more importantly, support. With our expertise in non-pharmacological approaches to behaviour management, DSA sought to understand the regulations and published our Behaviour Support Plan resources to help providers build their plans and bring them to life. We consider this a work in progress, with care providers facing previously unseen workforce challenges.

Our focus has been drawn more recently to the outcome of increased regulation and workforce issues further impacting care transitions, particularly from the hospital. We have been piloting the Acute to Residential Care Transition program, designed to understand some of the complex factors that lead to ‘bed block’ and offer policy and practice development. DSA has been supporting General Practitioners who care for people with behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia through the GP Advice Service, offering opportunities to talk with our medical specialists about prescribing and de-prescribing, and introducing Dementia Support Coaches in response to feedback that on the ground modelling of behaviour support is the most effective way to effect change.

With the current aged care workforce shortages, the aging population, rising costs and continuing reforms, we are working to make our recommendation reports more streamlined and accessible to front-line staff, taking it to single concepts, using different mechanisms to deliver interventions. But we need your help to ensure this meets the diverse needs of the sector. We have a strong and stable vision focussing on holistic, seamless, borderless support consistently delivered with respect to local geographic context. Knowing the person is the foundation of everything we do as we build recommendations and interventions in partnership with those who provide care.

Funded by the Australian Government, call DSA on 1800 699 799 or head to the DSA website; we are here to help.


*The views and opinions expressed in Knowledge Blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ARIIA, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.