Scholarship winner aims to inform dementia care policy

Flinders University Research Associate Dr Miia Rahja has been awarded the 2021 Jeff Cheverton Memorial Scholarship to develop a Health Policy Issues Brief on the topic: “Reablement Programs for Community Dwelling People Living with Dementia.“

The scholarship, established by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) together with Brisbane North Primary Health Network (PHN) and North Western Melbourne PHN, will enable Dr Rahja to spend six weeks working with a peak national health body, based in Canberra, to summarise current research evidence about reablement programs for people with dementia and their carers with specific focus on their applicability in Australia.

“These Issues Briefs are used by policymakers when considering and developing health policies,” she says.

“As such, this Issues Brief will directly inform the Australian policy and health care decision makers about reablement programs for people with dementia. The Brief will include guidance on how to enable access to these programs along with identifying appropriate funding streams.”

“The Jeff Cheverton Memorial Scholarship is an opportunity to share findings from the important work that has been done to improve care options and outcomes for people living with dementia in a way that can help make a positive difference,” says Dr Rahja.

“I hope to be able to make recommendations for approaches that enable people with dementia and their carers to access care that is evidence-based, promotes good quality of life, and supports their needs.”

The Issues Brief will build on findings from a project that saw researchers from the University of Sydney and Flinders University, including Dr Rahja, partner with 17 government, aged care and private practice organisations to implement an evidence-based program, Care of People with dementia in their Environments (COPE), for people living with dementia.

This particular program uses occupational therapy skills, such as problem solving, environmental adaptations and activity engagement, to identify strategies to address the needs of a person with dementia and their carers.

“There is new and crucial evidence that builds onto a 2018 Productivity Commission report about interventions to support carers of people with dementia. Programs now exist that can be offered by services in Australia and there are societal gains and cost savings to be made by including these programs in standard care.”

Dr Rahja says the scholarship will also provide her the opportunity to make connections with policymakers and practitioners in the aged care and dementia field, while hopefully holding discussions with the Department of Health and other peak bodies, as well as senators and policy advisors to parliamentarians.

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College of Medicine and Public Health