Dementia expert blasts six week training

·3-min read

The level of training needed to become a dementia carer in Australia can be as little as six weeks online, a major conference into the degenerative brain disease has heard.

Almost half a million Australians are now living with dementia and the most common form of the condition, Alzheimer's disease, is set to cost the economy $26.6 billion over the next two decades.

Dementia causes damage to the brain and impairs memory, thoughts and behaviour over time.

Speaking at the two-day event in Sydney, Stephen Macfarlane, psychiatrist and head of clinical governance for The Dementia Centre at Hammond Care, pointed to dementia knowledge of aged care staff as an issue.

"I think it's criminal that in this country you can become a dementia carer after a six-week online course," Dr Macfarlane said on Thursday.

"We need to embed it in the curriculum of residential aged care staff."

He said if aged care workers were not taught about dementia in undergraduate courses "you're not going to get good quality" dementia care.

Improving the quality of the aged care workforce, including education on dementia care, was a recommendation from the 2018 royal commission into aged care quality and safety.

In the wake of the royal commission, Labor took to the election a promise to put a nurse in every aged care home around the clock.

Earlier at the conference, HammondCare chief executive Mike Baird said passion, energy and "honest discussions" were needed to make a difference to the many Australians living with dementia.

He said valuing workers in the sector was key, praising the "life changing" efforts of those caring for people with the degenerative brain condition.

"It's not just wages, it's also the value of the work," he said, adding that "honest discussions among ourselves and as a sector" were needed in the field.

His comments come after the federal government last month made a submission to the fair work umpire urging a significant and meaningful wage increase for aged care workers.

Pay rises given to aged care workers -- another recommendation made by the royal commission -- could be "stepped out" over a period of time, Aged Care Minister Anika Wells has said.

Ms Wells is scheduled to address the conference, organised by the hospital and aged care charity, on Friday.

Other speakers will include opposition aged care spokesperson Anne Ruston, chef Maggie Beer, and Olympian and former parliamentarian Nova Peris.

Craig Ritchie, from the Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh, said a paradigm shift was needed on how society viewed dementia.

Earlier intervention was needed, especially in mid-life, to improve outcomes for those at high risk such as athletes in collision-heavy sports, Professor Ritchie said.

While there was still work to do to understand changes to the quality and structure of the brain caused by the disease, he said early detection was "where we can make changes".

Professor Ritchie cited a Scottish campaign that suggested things like physical activity and staying social could help people reduce their chance of getting dementia.

"I don't think anyone doubts dementia is preventable," he said.