11: The workforce treating and caring for people with dementia

Services provided across the health, aged care, disability and community sectors are a major source of support for people with dementia and their carers. This can include health care services (for example, those provided in the community by general practitioners (GPs), specialists and allied health professionals, and health care in hospital settings), pharmaceuticals, aged care assessments, aged care packages, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) supports, and other community and residential aged care services. Post-diagnostic support services are also important to help manage dementia.

There is an expansive workforce providing treatment, care and support to improve outcomes for people living with dementia. Regular monitoring of this workforce would open avenues to:

  • identify workforce gaps and plan for future needs
  • target dementia-specific training in current areas of high need
  • identify optimal educational contexts for introducing dementia-specific training to ensure maximum coverage of the workforce (such as communities of practice, micro credentials, and sharing of resources regarding effective dementia responses and supports).

However, there is a current lack of national comprehensive data on the formal workforce treating and caring for people with dementia (AIHW 2023).

Addressing the data gap and improving data

The national aged care workforce is monitored and reported on through a 4-yearly census and survey conducted and reported on by the department. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (the Royal Commission) recommended more regular monitoring of the aged care workforce (Royal Commission 2021). The Aged Care Provider Workforce Survey has replaced the Aged Care Workforce Census, with a survey in 2023. An Aged Care Worker Survey is planned for early 2024 (DoHAC 2023).

The Royal Commission also recommended implementing mandatory dementia care training for workers engaged in residential aged care and in care in the community after finding that staff often lack skills and resources to appropriately care for people with dementia, particularly people experiencing behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia (Royal Commission 2021). The Australian Government funds the Dementia Training Program to improve workforce skills for those working with people with dementia in the primary, acute, residential and community-based care sectors. This includes personal care workers, as well as GPs, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, specialists, and allied and other health professionals (DoHAC 2022).

There is evidence that insufficient training among health and aged care workers contributes to the substandard care of people living with dementia (Royal Commission 2021). Better data on dementia education and training among health and aged care providers could be used to monitor care provision and identify where further training is needed. Better data are also needed on knowledge of dementia risks and risk reduction strategies among primary health care professionals.

Building a better understanding of the composition of the workforce treating, supporting and caring for people with dementia beyond aged care, and their training, would improve ongoing dementia-specific workforce monitoring. It would also help monitor workforce knowledge to provide high quality, person-centred care for patients and clients with dementia.

Proposed data improvement activities

There are 2 main activities proposed to improve data on the workforce treating and caring for people living with dementia at a national level. These include activities to:

  • collect data on the knowledge of dementia, risk factors, risk reduction strategies, and capability among the workforce caring for and supporting people with dementia
  • report data from dementia education and training across Australia.

Each activity provides information on the intended outcome, priority rating, level of investment required, timeframe for completion of the activity and who is responsible for undertaking the activity.