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Life-changing trial for South Australians with advanced dementia

Published: 03 Jun 2022


A first-of-its-kind pilot program has helped 77-year-old great-grandfather Colin Semmens relocate into a Life Care residential aged care home, after spending more than one year in a specialist dementia unit living with advanced dementia.

Developed and led by the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network (SALHN), the Memory Support Transition Team (MSTT) pilot program is being trialled at the Repat Health Precinct. 

SALHN have partnered with Life Care – the state’s only aged care provider with an in-house geriatrician – to deliver the benefits of this trial to the community. 

The pilot program aims to transition older South Australians living with advanced dementia into residential aged care homes, where clinically appropriate, so they can continue to receive personalised and quality care in less intensive care settings.

The trial has already seen Colin and five other older people living with advanced dementia successfully transition into community-based living at Life Care’s residential aged care homes.

When Colin’s wife Barbara could no longer care for him on her own, he was admitted to the Specialist Advanced Dementia Unit (SADU) at the Repat Health Precinct where Barbara would undertake a 60-kilometre roundtrip almost every day for more than 12 months to visit him.

As part of the MSTT pilot program, Life Care – a specialist in dementia care – identified that it’s in-house geriatrician could support Colin’s complex health needs at its Aldinga Beach residential aged care home.

Life Care’s geriatrician worked collaboratively with the SALHN’s MSTT consisting of geriatricians, occupational therapists, and nurses to ensure a smooth six-week transition from hospital into aged care for Colin and the other new residents. This maintained the high-level of specialist care Colin had received at SADU, while reducing his likelihood of needing readmission.

“We are so pleased to be able to bring Colin closer to home and his family,” said Colin’s wife of 55 years, Barbara Semmens, who now drives just 15 minutes to visit her husband.

“The aged care home is wonderful, and the staff are all so kind and helpful. It really is like Colin’s living in his own home again.

“It means the world to us that he’s comfortable and well-looked after and that he can spend more time with his family who have missed him terribly.”

Melissa Fox, Life Care’s residential operations manager, said the MSTT pilot program provided older people and their families with another option beyond long-term hospital admission.

“It is very rewarding to be able to change someone’s life for the better by helping them out of hospital and into an environment that feels more like home,” she said. “I am delighted that that Colin has settled in so well with us at Aldinga Beach.”

Ms Fox said the appointment of Life Care’s own in-house geriatrician helped further strengthen the aged care provider’s specialist dementia care.

Life Care’s in-house geriatrician Miriam Cursaro joined the not-for-profit earlier this year.

“We are proud to be the state’s only aged care provider to appoint our own in-house geriatrician who works across all five of our residential aged care homes,” Ms Fox said.

“With research showing the number of older Australians with dementia will more than double in our lifetime, Miriam’s appointment puts Life Care at the forefront of dementia care.

“Life Care is committed to delivering best practice aged care for those living with all stages of dementia now and in the future.”

SALHN’s Clinical Director of Rehabilitation, Aged Care and Palliative Care, Professor Craig Whitehead, said the MSTT pilot program is a key step for patients living with complex dementia needs, and has benefits for all involved. 

“Through this trial, we are able to partner with residential aged care providers such as Life Care to support individual patients, their carers and family members to give them the best opportunity to return to community living, either in home based or residential aged care,” Professor Whitehead said. 

“Our Memory Support Transition Team works hand-in-hand with residential aged care providers to develop tailored patient care plans and ensure smooth transitional pathways.

“We want our patients to reside in community living environments in residential aged care settings where possible, where they can continue their treatment with specialised support and avoid unnecessary hospital admission. 

“By partnering with Life Care, we are improving the quality of life of older South Australians living with advanced dementia and we look forward to achieving more successful outcomes through this trial.” 

The SALHN Memory Support Transition Team pilot program commenced in February 2022.