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ESSA for an Active Nation: Aged Care Improvement

Last week saw some of the most experienced senior and middle managers from aged care organisations attend the Active Ageing Conference, and with multiple presentations on the benefits of exercise in aged care, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) is calling for a significant improvement of aged care services nation-wide.

“ESSA is for an active nation, and what is needed is a systematic approach that not only delivers levels of funding appropriate for the best individual care, but also addresses aged care service and best practice gaps in Australia, providing a fair go for the growing older population,” says ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

“We need an approach that empowers a strong health system that puts individuals at the centre of care.”

The Australian population is ageing, and with older age comes greater incidence of chronic illness and disease. More than three-quarters of Australians aged over 65 years have at least one chronic condition and chronic disease is a leading cause of disability in older adults.

More than 1.3 million adults then receive some form of government aged care support, with adults aged over 85 years as the main users of residential aged care services. Over the next two decades, the direct cost of residential aged care in Australia will increase substantially compared with other primary health services.

“Many chronic, age associated physical and cognitive declines can be delayed by participation in regular exercise,” explains Louise Csoznek, ESSA Policy and Relations Advisor and Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

“Increasing the physical activity levels of older adults effectively prevents and manages many chronic health problems, improves and prolongs physical function, independence and quality of life, and reduces cognitive decline.”

Alison Penington, Exercise Physiologist at Helping Hand Aged Care, spoke at the Active Ageing Conference on the benefits of rehabilitation and exercise prescription services for aged care residents with dementia.

Recent research has also indicated that a resistance training program in residential aged care resulted in 53% fewer falls after one year. Southern X Care in South Australia, led by Tim Henwood, will then be replicating these study findings with exercise physiology-led interventions

Ms Csoznek adds that regular exercise participation reduces falls and falls risk in older people – a significant cause of hospitalisation, disability and ultimately admission to a residential aged care facility.

The cost of inaction is not to be ignored. An AIHW study in 2008 suggests that total health and residential aged care expenditure will increase by 189% in the period 2003 to 2033.

A $33 billion in capital investment will be needed by the next decade to meet the accelerated demand for residential aged care beds, and the medical cost alone for falls will reach $1.4 billion by 2051.

So what is the solution? ESSA is urging the government to increase access to lifestyle interventions, such as exercise and diet, as part of a usual model of care for older people. This includes adding exercise physiology as a listed service type and exercise as a therapy type in aged care funding instrument (ACFI).

“There needs to be an improved care integration so that access to exercise interventions are supported across the lifespan, regardless of the aged care client’s location,” notes Ms Csoznek.

“Also, an investment in educating the aged care workforce is vital, and increasing the health literacy of older people about the need to include exercise as part of a beneficial care pathway.”

By supporting older adult engagement in person-at-the-centre aged care services, this can help to prevent disability and prolong quality of life. This includes giving clear, transparent, best practice information to enhance health pathways for older individuals.

For more information on ESSA for an Active Nation in aged care services, please contact Louise Czosnek.