Call for more dementia-specific respite care

A new report has called for better access to dementia-specific respite care across Australia.

Carers Australia has urged the government to increase subsidies for respite care in residential aged care facilities so that family and friend carers can take a break when required.

Other types of respite also need to be made more readily available, including cottage-style accommodation for overnight and weekend breaks, said Carers Australia’s Ara Cresswell.

“Our national survey that shows carers face increasing difficulty in finding respite care when they need a break from the demands of providing around-the-clock care, or even to deal with their own health or other family issues,” Ms Cresswell said.

Across Australia, 74 per cent of survey respondents reported high or very high demand for emergency respite, while the demand for pre-planned respite accommodation was 88 per cent.

Nearly 70 per cent reported that both emergency and pre-planned respite were difficult or very difficult to access. Despite undertaking often exhaustive efforts to identify respite opportunities, 35 per cent of respondents said they were only able to find respite beds some of the time.

“Caring for the aged can be an exhausting, time-consuming, and an emotionally wearing task – especially for those carers who are aged themselves,” Ms Cresswell said.

“For many, the opportunity to take a break is vital to their ability to continue providing care at home. They also need to find replacement care for the person they care for if they become ill themselves or have other demands that need attention and take them away from home.

“If a carer needs to be away for more than a night or two, respite accommodation for those they care for in an aged residential care facility is often their only option.”

Ms Cresswell said daily subsidies paid to residential aged care providers by the government were much higher for permanent residents and for residents convalescing after an illness or operation than for respite care, so there was a disincentive to make short-term stays available for respite care.

The difference was even sharper for people with high care needs, including people with advanced dementia, she said. 

“As well as higher subsidies to encourage aged care providers to offer respite, our research indicates a high, unfulfilled demand for overnight and weekend respite, particularly in cottage‑style accommodation.

“Cottage‑style respite is ideal because it offers home‑like surroundings and can feel more like a holiday for the person with care needs.”

Ms Creswell said the recent Aged Care Legislated Review 2017 recommended the government review existing respite arrangements to ensure an adequate supply of residential respite with equitable access.

“We would expect that the outcomes of this survey be taken into account in that review,” Ms Cresswell said.

Deloitte Access Economics calculated the replacement cost of the free care provided by family and friends amounted to $60.3 billion in 2015. 

The Carers Australia report, Improving access to aged residential respite care, is available here

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