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Preventing risk through research

Residential aged care services and models of care will be the focus of a new research project, developed in conjunction with Macquarie University.

Developed to evaluate antipsychotic medication use in residential aged care, the newly launched 12 month joint project with Catholic Healthcare is being led by Chief Investigator, Dr Lisa Pont in conjunction with several other researchers.

Dr Pont explains that the use of antipsychotics for some conditions, such as dementia, is being questioned due to the potentially harmful side effects, particularly in the older demographic of patients.

“Antipsychotic medications are often prescribed in aged care to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms associated with dementia (BPSD)”, she says. “What research in the field suggests is that this method of management isn’t always appropriate.”

The suggestion that these specific medications are overprescribed isn’t unfamiliar. Alzheimer’s Australia published a white paper in 2014 that revealed “about half of people in residential aged care facilities, and up to 80% of those with dementia, are receiving psychotropic medications.”

Additionally, the paper identified the serious side effects associated with antipsychotics and other psychotropics including “increased mortality for people with dementia and financial cost to the community.”

Catholic Healthcare has identified this as a challenge existing across the aged care sector and is looking to change the future for individuals demonstrating BPSD, with alternative therapies, as opposed to pharmacological intervention, if possible.

“The point of the study is really to ensure we’re continuing to offer quality care to the aged community,” says Dr Pont. “With the rate of the increasing ageing population, this research is integral to ensuring we find a sustainable model for the future generations entering aged care.”

Across Catholic Healthcare, there is a significant focus from carers and staff to address each resident’s concerns, with a tailored, unique management method designed especially for them. These practices generally include holistic therapies, like exercise, sensory therapy sessions and other approaches before proposing a pharmacological solution.

“Changing the culture of medication use in residential aged care is challenging,” Dr Pont says. “Despite that, we need to ensure we put our people first. This research project demonstrates the need to expand our knowledge in this demographic.”

The project will be conducted across 38 Catholic Healthcare residential aged care services in NSW, and will explore staff and residents’ response to the use of antipsychotics. The aim is to reduce use among those residents for whom an antipsychotic may be a poor medicine choice.

“We’re looking forward to exploring the topic more,” says Dr Pont. “At the close of the project I believe we’ll feel confident in putting forward a thoroughly researched proposal to manage this effectively into the future.”