Australia’s nursing homes will be swamped by a tidal wave of Parkinson’s sufferers unless governments act now, an expert warns.
A Sydney-based Parkinson’s disease expert says rates are expected to jump 80 per cent over the next 20 years because of Australia’s aging population.
Currently 64,000 people have the progressive brain disease that causes uncontrollable tremors, loss of movement and bowel and bladder problems.
Associate Professor Simon Lewis from the University of Sydney is expected to present new research on the benefits of community-based Parkinson’s nurses at a nursing conference on the Gold Coast on Friday.
Professor Lewis says Australia must adopt the UK approach of employing the specialist nurses or pay the price in nursing home care costs.
“You have to have a way of addressing this tidal wave of patients who are coming over the next 20 years,” he told AAP.
His research indicates that access to specialist nurses in the community can stave off the need for nursing home accommodation.
He compared the health of Parkinson’s sufferers and their carers in Shoalhaven, NSW, before and six months after they were placed in the care of a specialist nurse.
“Very clearly what we saw is that during the time they had been seeing the nurse the patient’s health had improved,” he said.
“More importantly, the carers themselves reported that their own health had improved.”
The nurses gave vital support to carers that had been lacking, Professor Lewis said.
“You get told in a consulting room, `yes your husband has this condition and it’s going to get worse’ and then of course the door closes and there’s very little support beyond that point,” he said.
Depression in carers was the number one cause of patients moving from home care into a nursing home, Professor Lewis said.
“If we can keep those people healthier the bottom line is that we should be able to prevent or delay patients with these conditions going into nursing home care,” he said.
“It’s obviously a huge cost saving.”
The nurses can take on up to 300 patients for home visits and act as a go-between with patients’ other specialists.
Professor Lewis says nurses are keen to undertake training in the area but governments must create jobs for them.
“There’s no use saying to these brilliant nurses,`hey come get trained as a neurology nurse’ if they aren’t going to be any jobs at the end of it,” he said.
“Really what we need now is for people to seize the initiative on the basis of some actual research evidence.”
The ACT and Tasmania have created some places for Parkinson’s nurses but there needs to be a bigger, nation-wide push, Professor Lewis said.
“People in Australia never want their loved ones to go into a nursing home,” he said.
“These carers are already doing the hard yards and if we can support them with people like the specialist nurses I really think that’s what we need to be pursuing.”