Over the years, a lack of brain injury-specific facilities, beds and trained staff has led to lengthy wait lists for specialised residential settings. While we know that brain injury needs individualised treatment, and makes the development of a standardised model of care difficult, aged care homes were never an acceptable ‘plan b’.
Despite that glaring truth, until recently some 6,000 younger people were living in residential aged care across Australia. Now, at last, the end is in sight. The Australian Government’s decision to establish a task force to end the practice of placing young people with disability in aged care is an important step.
So why has this been happening?
With limited accommodation options for younger people with a disability, particularly with an acquired brain injury (ABI), aged care homes became a default when other avenues had been exhausted. Where needs were complex, hospital discharge was hurried or housing options limited, it became a wholly inappropriate safety-net – not least because of the social and emotional impacts.
The reality for some people with brain injury and disability has been a life of ‘boredom and isolation’ in aged care; no control over where you live and with whom, or when and what you eat – even to the extent of being locked in a dementia ward.
The aged care experience doesn’t just stunt progress for people with a brain injury, it actively works against it, eroding confidence, creating social disconnection and de-skilling people in the most fundamental areas of life.
The Government’s ambitious (and welcome) 2025 deadline, to free people with a disability from a system not designed to meet their needs, is a first step towards handing back the ‘choice and control’ younger people living in aged care have been long promised, but denied in practice.
In October the Government announced an investment of $10.6m in a national network of system coordinators to help younger people find age-appropriate accommodation and supports to allow them to live independently.
A critical step to preventing younger people from entering residential aged care is the provision of faster access to, and greater availability of, age-appropriate accommodation and supports. To ensure that younger people already living in, or at risk of entering, residential aged care have suitable living options, the Young People in Residential Aged Care (YPIRAC) strategy will address issues including –
- access to health services, including rehabilitation,
- access to suitable public and community housing solutions
- the development of an expanded Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) market.
The strategy also emphasises the need for ‘early and active engagement’ with support services and hospitals, including earlier planning, to explore options for age-appropriate accommodation and supports prior to discharge.
Hopes are high that the strategy will finally deliver improvements for those most vulnerable to this long-running gap in our systems of care and support.
Find out more about the Government’s initiative on Younger People in Residential Aged Care.