Dementia Support Australia

Dementia Support Australia (DSA) is a service led by HammondCare’s Dementia Centre and supported by the Australian Government under the Dementia and Aged Care Services Fund. HammondCare’s Dementia Centre was founded in 1995 as a provider of impartial research and expertise to the aged and dementia care community, both in Australia and internationally.

DSA aims to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their carers; up-skill, assist and support aged care providers in improving care for people with dementia and related behaviours; and ensure care services for people with dementia are responsive to their individual and often diverse needs and circumstances. Support from DSA is provided in a variety of ways: 24/7 contact with a Dementia Consultant for advice and referrals; phone or in person assessments and support; communication with the carer/support network to gain more knowledge; individually tailored recommendations and strategies; ongoing support and guidance to implement recommendations; access to current research and guidelines; and referrals to other services.

DSA provides 3 key national support services that can be accessed independently:

  • Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service (DBMAS) is a mobile workforce of health and allied health professionals who provide support for people living with dementia and their carers, whose wellbeing or care is impacted by the presence of mild to moderate behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia. DBMAS supports people with dementia and their carers living in community, residential care, and acute care settings. DBMAS delivers this support through a detailed case management framework that includes person-centred recommendations, 24/7 access to specialist dementia consultants, and the timely delivery of a detailed assessment and interview usually within 7 days of referral.
  • Severe Behaviour Response Teams (SBRT) is a mobile workforce of health and allied health professionals who provide support for people living with dementia and their carers, whose wellbeing or care is impacted by the presence of severe behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia. SBRT supports people with dementia and their carers residing in Commonwealth-funded residential aged care facilities, multi-purpose services, or flexibly funded services. SBRT delivers this support through a detailed case management framework that includes person-centred recommendations, access to specialist dementia consultants 24/7, and the timely delivery of a detailed assessment and interview within 48 hours of referral.
  • Needs Based Assessment program is a mobile workforce of health and allied health professionals who determine eligibility for the Specialist Dementia Care Program through a nationally consistent and standardised assessment.  

Between January to June 2018 and January to June 2020 there was a 40% increase in the total number of referrals that were supported by DSA—a 36% increase for the DBMAS and 77% increase for SBRTs. This increase is likely due to increased awareness of DSA, combined with a growing importance of supporting people experiencing behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia in Australia. Inadequate care for this group was highlighted in the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety.

Select a 6-month time period (between 1 January to 30 June 2018 and 1 January to 30 June 2020) in Figure 11.1 to explore the profile of DSA referrals during this time.

Figure 11.1: Profile of referrals to Dementia Support Australia (DSA)

Figure 11.1 is a panel of figures including bar graphs and pie charts showing demographic characteristics and service use information of referrals to Dementia Support Australia in 6 month periods between January to June 2018, and January to June 2020. For each 6 month period, women accounted for a slightly greater percentage of referrals than men. The majority of referrals were for people living in residential aged care, and those living in Major cities from the most populous states (New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland). The majority of referrals were for accessing the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service rather than Severe Behaviour Response Teams. The most common type of dementia recorded was Alzheimer’s disease, closely followed by Unspecified dementia.

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Between January and June 2020, there were 5,452 referrals to DSA. This had increased by 17% (from 4,670 referrals) from the number of referrals in the previous 6 months (July to December 2019). The January to June 2020 period covers the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, and during this time, DSA were able to continue to deliver services by adhering to social distancing and infection control requirements, as well as providing video conferencing services. DSA also released a resource for aged care services with tips for managing a person living with dementia whose behaviour may be impacting their care.

Specialist Dementia Care Program

The Specialist Dementia Care Program (SPDC) is an Australian Government initiative committed to establishing specialist dementia care units in purpose built facilities across Australia—providing individualised care to people who are experiencing severe behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia and who can no longer be managed by their carers or by mainstream residential aged care services. The benefit of specialised dementia care units is that the person experiencing severe behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia can receive personalised, specialist care in an environment uniquely designed for a person with dementia.

DSA assesses eligibility for the SDCP through their Needs Based Assessment program.

Once approved, a person will be required to enter the program within 3 months and their length of stay in a SDCP unit will vary (usually up to 12 months). When specialist care is no longer required, providers must support the person’s move into a less-intensive care setting.

The first prototype of the specialist dementia care unit under the SDCP began operating in Perth, Western Australia in 2019. Approved residential aged care providers can apply for program grants to set up units in their facility, and there have been a number of specialist dementia care units funded for operation to date. By 2022–23, the Australian Government aims to have at least 1 specialist dementia care unit in each of the 31 Primary Health Network regions.